What about no longer thinking with our tires?!?

The photo shows two cars block a sidewalk in Phnom Penh (Photo credit: Lirathnak Meas)

There was a time not so long ago in Phnom Penh when parked cars, street vendors and merchandize displays did not interfere with pedestrians going by: They could walk in the street without exposing themselves to danger. 


This time is long gone. Today’s heavy traffic, with its large number of big vehicles, gets congested at nearly all arterial roads in the city. As a result, the humble pedestrian who can’t use the sidewalk, which should be his actual territory, ends up walking in the street where he is constantly exposed to having motos or vehicles brush past him or run him over  


Before going any further with this article, let’s point out that a pedestrian is not, as some people would be too willing to believe, someone who can’t afford a vehicle or even a moto, and therefore with whom one would have nothing to worry about in view of his low social standing.  


A pedestrian can be, for example, a child walking to school; someone who, having parked his vehicle on the sidewalk and blocked the pedestrians’ way,  walks in the street to his destination; a bank employee going to the restaurant for lunch; a tourist visiting the city on foot, and so on. 


In short, a pedestrian is a citizen like any other, deserving respect and consideration. So, he deserves his portion of public space that will enable him to be safe as a pedestrian and have access to his rightful portion of the sidewalk.  


Of course the authorities, eager to ensure all citizens’ rights to an equal share of public space, have planned on reserving a portion of the sidewalks to pedestrians based on the rule of three: a third for the person living on the ground floor, a third as green space and the last third for pedestrians.  


But obviously, this rule of three remains widely unknown, if not blithely flouted.


For example, just try, between 10 am and 6 pm, to walk on the sidewalk along Sihanouk Boulevard between Street 63 and Street 51 on the south side of the street along the banks without having at one point to get off the sidewalk and walk in the street: Mission impossible.


 The culprit in that area: parking spaces for cars and motos spreading the whole breadth of the sidewalk and set up by retailers and banks for their customers. 


Everywhere else, it’s the more and more pressing need for parking that, combined with the old habit of using sidewalks as commercial space, makes Phnom Penh unwelcoming—if not dangerous—for pedestrians.  


What to do? There are known solutions:  making sure that real estate developers incorporate in their projects parking spaces corresponding to the square meters built, enforcing the no-parking zones, and so on—no need to list them all.


But first, wouldn’t it be a good idea to stop thinking with our tires and to use what Nature has given us to do so: our neurons!


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