The Goddess Lexus and the Pedestrian

FILES: people walks along Preah Sisowath Quay on May 22, 2020.
  • Lim Tola
  • August 29, 2020 10:45 AM

A few days ago, while walking on the sidewalk of Street 19, which runs alongside the Royal Palace, a policeman on duty in one of the gatehouses signaled to me through gestures that I had to get off the sidewalk and walk in the street.

Surprised and, not sure that I had grasped what he wanted, I kept on walking on that section of the sidewalk where I have been walking several times a week, and this, for many years.   

Further down the street, I came across two other policemen who made me understand that, yes, I had to walk in the street and no longer on the sidewalk.

Those who know this section of Street 19 are aware that it’s not possible to walk on the sidewalk on the other side of the street as it is completely blocked by cars badly parked, business carts and other obstacles. 

Therefore, the pedestrian I was ended up constrained to walk in the street and in danger of being snagged by a car.

I don’t know why the decision was made on that day to prevent me from walking on that section of the sidewalk but this represents one more proof of the lack of consideration—if not lack of respect—that is shown pedestrians in Phnom Penh.   

From car drivers who go through red lights or don’t respect the priority given to pedestrians at traffic lights, to sidewalks turned into parking spots or filled with business carts, forcing people to basically walk in the middle of the street: Everything leads toward getting rid of pedestrians on streets.  

How many times will we have to repeat that the city is a public space that is meant to be shared?!?

How long will we have to wait for the authorities to take action and put an end to individuals appropriating public space whether for their businesses or to park their cars or motorcycles.   

At one point, the suggestion was made to completely turn one street going from Central Market to the riverfront into a footpath.

Imagine in the very heart of Phnom Penh’s historic section one street without car, without noise, without exhaust fumes: This was obviously sheer madness in a capital in which the only goddess to have a say is now called Lexus!

The footpath therefore never materialized.

The authorities of the country’s capital are of course aware that, in other capitals throughout the world, the authorities attempt to restrict vehicle access to historical and tourist districts in order to turn them over to pedestrians.   

Here, except for the esplanade in front of the Royal Palace, the street that runs along it from east to west up to Street 19, and a short section of Street 13 in front of the National Museum, everything is taken up by cars, small businesses and parking spots.

And yet, Phnom Penh would be so beautiful and appealing if, in an area demarcated by Norodom Boulevard to the west, the river to the east, Independence Monument to the south and the Cambodia Post Head Office to the north, vehicles and motorcycles were prohibited.    

This, being the time to get new ideas to relaunch tourism brought down by COVID-19, would send a strong signal to international tourists. 

Unfortunately, I know that the Lexus goddess and its fans will never let that happen.

But this is a big mistake as, by letting pedestrians breathe, it is the whole city that would be breathing again.

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