A strong, controversial start
Within just two hours at two road sections this Wednesday, authorities of District 1 in HCMC and traffic police handled over 100 cases of motorcycle users riding on the sidewalk, and imposed an administrative fine of VND350,000 each on violators. Such sanctions are seen heavy-handed, as most road users see riding on the sidewalk not an abnormal behavior, but a work-a-day practice, and few had been punished for such infringement of the law before. The big number of violators in just a short length of time on one hand sheds light on the low public awareness of legal compliance, and the poor performance of management agencies in securing urban order in as many years on the other hand.
A fortnight before District 1 authorities took to the street to ward off rampant traffic violations, as covered in local media, numerous barriers had been installed on the sidewalks on major streets in the district to prevent bike riders, but with little effect. Vietnamnet in a photo essay shows how many riders still manage to zigzag their way through the barriers on the sidewalk, posing risks to pedestrians. The news website reports that many barriers have been damaged after being hit by motorcycles. The barriers themselves are also tumbling blocks for many people, especially the disabled on wheelchairs or the blind.
With heavy fines this time, authorities look determined to fight violators, and send out a strong message that pedestrians will be protected, and urban order safeguarded.
At two provisional “checkpoints”, one on Nguyen Binh Khiem Street and the other at the junction between Ly Tu Trong and Nguyen Trung Truc streets, authorities and police have stopped all riders running on the sidewalks, imposing fines and stunning many violators.
Doan Ngoc Hai, vice chairman of District 1, says in Tuoi Tre newspaper that the district government is determined to restore public order. “Riding on the pavement poses serious dangers to pedestrians, and such images are also weird to foreign visitors to the city,” he is quoted as saying in Tuoi Tre, adding the people should improve their awareness if the city is to become more civilized.
Hai asserts that he himself will lead the effort to restore order. “I will directly be taking part in this move to punish violators. If District 1 wants to become another Singapore, urban order must be restored,” he says in Vnexpress.
The district government’s message seems to be accepted despite concerns to some extent.
In local media, many readers say the heavy sanctions are necessary. “If the law is not strict, those people with poor awareness will continue violating the law,” says a reader named Nguyen Cong Thanh in Thanh Nien. He suggests that cameras be fitted along the street to provide evidence for strict sanctions.
Meanwhile, another reader says it is all correct to get tough on violators. “I think heavy-handed measures by authorities to gain back the sidewalk for pedestrians are completely right,” says Tran Van Hung in Tuoi Tre.
There are, however, some opinions showing sympathy and understanding for violators.
As many people have for long seen riding on the sidewalk not a serious breach of law, it is unfair to point the accusing finger at road users only, since authorities are also to blame for their incompetence, according to Tuoi Tre.
In fact, many people have to move onto the pavement when facing severe traffic congestion, says the paper, citing a city resident named Tran Van Hung in District 12. When stuck in a traffic jam, many people urgent on business, such as rushing to airport or to hospital, have no choice but to ride on the sidewalk and “In reality, congestion on many streets is eased as bike riders move on the sidewalk to get ahead of traffic.” Therefore, while heavy sanctions against violators are needed, State agencies must also quickly find solutions to traffic congestion in the city.
Lao Dong refers to several cases of violators protesting the punishment, saying they had to move onto the pavement because the street was congested. However, Vice Chairman Hai responded that they should accept the fines for their wrongdoing, as a lesson to be learned to help make the city civilized and modern.
Ngo Viet Nam Son, an architect well knowledgeable about traffic and urban planning, points out that authorities should also assume responsibility when people ride on the sidewalk. The architect reasons that authorities instead of limiting population density in long-established urban areas have allowed for developing high-rise buildings, and thus, traffic infrastructure fails to meet the demand of road users. “Therefore, the phenomenon of people riding on the pavement is more widespread in old urban quarters, while in new urban centers, such a behavior is rarely seen,” he says in Tuoi Tre.
He stresses that while punitive sanctions are imperative, it is not the sole responsibility of unaware riders.
Restoring traffic safety as well as urban order is a must to help the city a more livable urban center. However, while punitive sanctions are taken, authorities must also look for solutions to ease the agony of road users when traffic congestion has become a nightmare.
The campaign to restore public order in HCMC, seen from the efforts of District 1 authorities, has apparently got off to a strong start and should be spread throughout the city, but it is also a controversial one.