A number of expats have told Tuoi Tre News how they feel about walking in Ho Chi Minh City and how living in the city is a struggle for pedestrians.
The comments were made after a story by Tuoi Tre News featuring the idea of the Ho Chi Minh City administration, whereby it is considering calling on its residents, particularly public servants, to walk to school or work and contribute to efforts to curb traffic congestion.
City-dwellers should take up walking if they live within 3km from schools or workplaces, the city’s deputy chairman, Le Van Khoa, suggested.
Would be easy, if…
I think many people commute from outer districts, so walking is not really an option. In my opinion, improving mass transit systems and encouraging people to use public transportation, combined with walking, would be a good solution. Also, taxing personal vehicles similar to Singapore could help as they take up a lot of space on the road.
I walk often in District 1. While some of the sidewalks are pedestrian-friendly, the largest problem I face is motorbikes driving on the walkways. It's quite dangerous and I've almost been hit on multiple occasions. Also, crossing the streets even whilst having the right of way is dangerous as motorbikes and cars do not yield to pedestrians.
In the U.S., people often walk to work and school in big cities. Typically it’s because it’s more convenient to walk because of parking and traffic. Additionally, people view it as good exercise. For children, there are crossing guards at large intersections, and there are strict penalties for vehicles driving through a crosswalk once the pedestrian has a walk signal.
Walking would be easy in Ho Chi Minh City if the sidewalks were large enough and free of obstacles such as parked motorbikes and people driving on them.
Having more parking garages or parking lots would help clear the sidewalks. Having government workers helping students, workers, and tourists cross large intersections at peak times would also be helpful. Having wide sidewalks that are well paved and clean is nice for pedestrians. Motorbikes on sidewalks are inconvenient but without another place to park them would hurt businesses so it's a difficult problem to fix right away. People driving on sidewalks should be ticketed for sure and education on respecting crosswalks when pedestrians are present would be great.
Moreover, crosswalks should be painted clearly and there should be crossing guards for children going to school through busy intersections.
John Reid, American, Pasteur Street Brewing Co.’s co-founder
Must be a joke!
Walk to work? Indeed it must a joke! I usually walk if I can but even in the most touristic places in town (District 1) sidewalks are so full of scooters that it’s just impossible to walk safely and comfortably!
Pedestrians have rights. The right to walk safely and easily but this concept has not come to Vietnam yet! Too many people consider sidewalks as private parking and not as a public space that has to be left clear for pedestrians!
Another problem is crossing streets! It's impossible to let kids go to school on foot, who is stopping at a crosswalk? You can do a little test on Nguyen Hue Street. Red lights were installed about 2 years ago with call lights for pedestrians! However, scooters and even cars do not stop at the red light, so it's very dangerous especially for tourists who trust traffic lights!
I work in that area and I’ve never seen in 2 years a police patrol stopping a scooter or a car that ran a stoplight!!! In most developed countries, this will cost you your license or a suspension for a minimum of a month and a fine that could be a few hundred dollars!
There’s no will to improve this situation, or we would start to see police patrols stopping scooters driving on sidewalks, the removal of scooters parked everywhere and also vehicles stopped when running through stoplights! These are all breaches of traffic regulations, even in Vietnam!
Motorbikes: biggest issue
I live in Trung Son so it's difficult to walk to my office, but I do encourage my girlfriend to do so for exercise. I also used to go on long walks to talk philosophy with a professor friend of mine in Ho Chi Minh City.
The biggest issue with walking here is traffic, as motorbikes can jump onto sidewalks and be anywhere. My favorite place to walk is in District 7 near Crescent Mall, where they've blocked it from motorbikes.
Secondly, the weather is really hot in Vietnam. Back home, I walked a lot but here, the heat makes me uncomfortable. It's easier to walk in mild weather. I used to walk about 2.5km to work every day in Boston in roughly 30 to 35 minutes. But here it's so hot I'd rather not. I'd look like a sponge when I got to work.
In America we actually have bike or walking paths in the woods, neighborhoods, etc. As soon as you enter a crosswalk, traffic will stop since the laws are obeyed. If they don't stop, the police will write them a ticket if they see or if it's on camera.
Traffic in America is really orderly, even compared to Europe. The only place with more organized traffic maybe is Japan. Their sidewalks even have lanes for walking, like on the street so everyone on the left is going in one direction and the right in another, while we don't do that in the U.S.
I’ve also noticed a smaller percentage of Vietnamese seem to go to the gym compared to Americans. I don't know if that's true, but most of the Vietnamese people I meet or work with are surprised or impressed if we talk about exercise and I mention I run three times per week and do other exercises.
When I did my CELTA at ILA, it was only 3km from Trung Son to District 1 to ILA so I would have walked. But there's no sidewalk on the bridge and the sidewalks are full of motorbikes and food vendors, so the only way to get to ILA was to drive.
Matthew D. Edward (blue shirt)
In major U.S. cities public transit usually stays open to midnight or 2:00 AM, so it's easy to take a subway, then walk, even if you work late. Also, it’s pleasant to walk there because the air is clean.
A few times a week my girlfriend and I go to Phu My Hung, where there's a walking path to Crescent Mall for exercise. In downtown Ho Chi Minh City and in District 7’s Phu My Hung, it's quite walkable, while other areas are not.
I've noticed the parents at English centers discourage their kids from using the stairs and tell them to take the elevators, even for one or two floors. I feel like the children are treated too well in some ways. They are so protected that they become fat and unhealthy.
One of the best ways to encourage citizens to walk more is to get people off the sidewalk, which is now “reserved” for motorbike parking and food stalls. If you want to walk, you have to be in the street. In the U.S., the sidewalk is public, which means no one has the right to block it. If someone started putting motorcycles all over a sidewalk, they'd get a huge fine.
Matthew D. Edward, American, lecturer at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities
Into the road
I have tried to walk in various parts of the city. Without a full sidewalk it is really hard, you have to go onto the road a lot, which can be quite dangerous as many bikes or cars don't look for you and you are technically on their part of the road. There are also not a lot of roads with trees to provide shade so it can get pretty hot, with the constant need to dodge bikes and other obstacles making it harder, so you get hotter!
If you look at Nguyen Hue for example, the bikes rarely stop at the lights, even though there are walking signs and buttons, so it is a behavioral issue as well. Many places in the US have drivers who are very aware of pedestrians. They do not always respect the pedestrians, but they know that they can get in big trouble if they put a person in danger.
To improve the situation, I think that there needs to be a combination of things, including a good system that interconnects, a clean, well maintained sidewalk, and also incentives to ride public transport and use public parking structures.
Brian Cotter, American, innovation specialist at UNICEF in Ho Chi Minh City