Complete Streets, Hanoi Update

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After the relative traffic calm of Laos & Cambodia I absolutely wasn’t prepared for Hanoi. As you can see above there are no lanes or obvious flow in the fairly typical intersection shown. It’s in the center of the Old Quarter which is busy all day and night. An easy fix to the above would be to make it a roundabout so that vehicles were forced into a predictable flow. There’s a small fountain that acts as a bit of a traffic circle off to the left of the picture but the main traffic flow doesn’t go around that. However a new roundabout would only work if there was enforcement and I don’t see much police presence.

It would have been great to see some police attention to keep scooters off the sidewalk behind us but that didn’t happen as you see below. This was pretty common behavior in the afternoon commute we witnessed. For those turning right at the worst intersections, the easiest time saver was to jump on the sidewalk for the right turn then get back on the street. So we were watching our back the rest of the walk home.

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For walkers it’s pretty intimidating. The shear density of the traffic and the almost complete lack of accommodation for pedestrians makes it truly dangerous for walking. The best thing you can say is that vehicles don’t seem to get much above 30 kph so an accident probably won’t be fatal.

I used Google ‘My Tracks’ on 2 different taxi trips (one 7 km and the other 6 km). The first trip averaged 14 kph (yes kilometers/hour not miles/hour!) and the other 12 kph. Just about anyone could maintain that speed on a bike so I don’t think it would be too hard to get people back on bikes if you could somehow reduce the terror of mixing it up with heavier vehicles. However, all the vehicles are much more tightly packed than I’m used to in the US so it’s intimidating to ride a bike. I would think the quickest way to convert people to riding bikes would be to ban all other vehicles from the most traffic-impacted roads. Of course, I don’t imagine cyclists have much lobbying clout since they are likely poorer than the car and scooter users.

Pedestrian safety is enough of a concern that hotels provide advice when you check in on how to cross the street

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Ideally you find a bit of a gap in traffic and slowly cross while keeping an eye on the vehicles coming at you. It’s OK to stop midway across but NEVER back up since that’s unexpected. Mostly the scooters and cars will drive around you but that assumes they are paying attention and not engaged in their smartphone which is quite common. It mostly worked for me but it is not a relaxing city for walkers and quite stressful. In 3 days I saw 3 accidents right in front of me. They looked to be mostly cuts and bruises and thankfully not worse. Pretty bad considering I rarely witness accidents in the US. My wife was much more intimidated than me. She probably would have taken a taxi or 2 just to CROSS some of the worst intersections if I hadn’t been acting as a human shield. I don’t know how the infirm or elderly could navigate here.

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