Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Phnom Penh's road toll rises

Phnom Penh's road toll rises

Phnom Penh's road toll rises

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trac4.jpg

Last year traffic accidents in Phnom Penh killed more than twice the number of people

claimed by land mines nationwide.

Traffic snarl-ups of jumbo proportions lie ahead as competing interests vie for space as this typical scene on Sisowath Quay shows.

With the number of vehicles hitting the crumbling road surface of the city's streets

increasing each year, Phelim Kyne and Vong Sokheng examine the present chaos and

future for Phnom Penh's traffic system.

Koizumi Yukihiro looks at the future of Phnom Penh's traffic system with a mixture

of dread and professional stoicism.

The Assistant Resident Representative for the Japan International Co-operation Agency

(JICA), which is providing funds and expertise for the development of a city traffic

master plan, Koizumi is blunt about the challenges that face planners in preventing

Phnom Penh from following the traffic chaos model of development that has blighted

capital cities across Asia.

With the number of registered vehicles in the city increasing 57% over the past five

years to 150,000 competing for road space with an estimated 73,780 more that enter

the city from the countryside and untold thousands of unregistered vehicles, Yukihiro

says that unless drastic action is taken soon, the city will be unable to cope.

"As people have more money they're buying more cars, and if private vehicles

increase in number without the development of any public transit system, the situation

in Phnom Penh will become as severe as Bangkok's," Yukihiro said.

And in a direct challenge to the longtime laissez-faire attitude of government to

the city's traffic woes, Yukihiro says effective, long-term strategies to alleviate

congestion must be implemented in the short term, or it will be too late.

While Phnom Penh's car-per-kilometer ratio of 34 cars per kilometer is a fraction

of the 1,332 vehicles that clog each kilometer of Bangkok, Yukihiro warns things

are changing fast. "Phnom Penh's traffic situation is currently better than

that of other Asian cities because the roads are wider and the number of vehicles

is still low compared to other cities," Yukihiro said. "But if there's

no improvement and if economic gains continue, in five years the situation will be

much more serious than now," he cautioned.

In an effort to save Phnom Penh from the traffic jams and pollution that have poisoned

the quality of life in other parts of Asia, JICA is funding a three-part, 15-year

plan designed to alleviate traffic congestion and provide alternatives to the vicious

cycle of spiraling private vehicle ownership that has blighted the streets of Bangkok.

The first stages of the JICA plan involve the trial of a city bus system, a systematic

upgrade of side street "collector roads" running parallel to main arteries

such as Monivong and Sihanouk Boulevards along with a traffic safety education program.

"The small collector roads are of very poor quality so there is an over-concentration

of traffic on main routes (such as Monivong Boulevard)," Yukihiro said. "Phnom

Penh streets also have a mixture of motorbikes, cars and cyclos driving in every

direction on all sides of the road, which is chaotic and also decreases road capacity."

JICA and counterparts in the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MPWT) and the

Phnom Penh Municipality will evaluate the success of these initial measures before

deciding on the next plan of action.

Than Sina, Deputy Governor of Phnom Penh Municipality, is aware of the increasing

threat that traffic problems pose to city development and the safety of its citizens.

"We're in the process of trying to resolve it, but we don't yet have an integrated

plan," he said.

Sina said that the Municipality was upgrading a "beltway" system of perimeter

roads to relieve stress on the city's core main arteries using funding derived from

the sale of the old Youth Club property to the United States government.

Emphasis on stricter enforcement of traffic rules and driver education were also

on Sina's checklist of measures for mitigating the worst excesses of local drivers.

But Sina warned that successfully addressing the city's traffic problems involved

factors beyond the control of the Municipality.

"The city's traffic problem is a reflection of the effect that poverty has in

spurring rural migration to the city, as we saw in the seventies and eighties in

Bangkok and Jakarta," he explained. "Effective poverty alleviation measures

must be implemented nationwide in order to stem migration to the city and reduce

the number of people and vehicles on the city streets."

Funding and expertise was urgently needed to prevent Phnom Penh from replicating

the traffic crises that now define life in other major Asian cities, he adds.

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