Phnom Penh: at Last, the Return of Traffic Jams

A traffic policeman directs traffic along a street in Phnom Penh on August 26, 2021. Photo: AFP

We had been expecting them for a long time and here they are, building up in Phnom Penh’s streets and boulevards.  We can feel them coming back, our pre-pandemic traffic jams. The prime minister on Nov. 1 has officially declared the “full reopening” of all economic sectors except for some activities still under control measures.     

This is therefore the beginning of the end of the restrictions imposed to curb the COVID-19 pandemic that, for several months, had taken away from us one of the pleasures of life in Phnom Penh: Those famous traffic jams that are, along with the myriads of construction sites, the most striking expression of the country’s economic vitality.  

The more so that in Phnom Penh, we are treated to outstanding traffic jams with big, beautiful and brand-new cars among which high-end Rolls Royce, Bentley and Mercedes cars are not uncommon, let alone the Lexus cars that are in such large number that they have become commonplace.    

Our Phnom Penh traffic jams also have the distinction of spilling over sidewalks when, of course, those are not blocked by cars parked any which way. When streets are blocked, motorcycles switch to them in disregard of the pedestrians, like a stream flowing in every possible direction. 

Polluting, noisy, time consuming, those traffic jams are still better than a city without any traffic as we have seen at the height of the quarantine, aren’t they? Their being back means that schools have reopened, that people are working, that social life is “normal.” They indicate that the pandemic seems under control. You know, before this, I did not like traffic jams, only seeing in them the negative side of today’s life. And then, there was the pandemic. Today, I understand that in Phnom Penh, smooth flow of traffic means problem.       

One may argue that traffic jams are first the negative result of a combination of factors—the increasing number of cars, inadequate road repair and maintenance or roads under construction, the lack of compliance with traffic and parking regulations—and in no way the positive sign of economic activity unimpeded by a pandemic such as COVID-19. That’s right. But we don’t really have a choice: It’s coronavirus or traffic jams.     

So, long live traffic jams, isn’t?!?

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