Car-Free Zones in Vietnam
By Darren Proulx
In an earlier article, I highlighted my observations in the Hanoi Old Quarter. This area has many of the qualities of good urbanism including small scale streets/buildings, interesting details and a high density of residents, visitors and businesses. Despite these great qualities, the area is held back from being a great walkable destination due to the crowding from motorbikes, cars and vans. I drew a comparison to Bogota, proposing traffic calming to restrict vehicle access. It is best to look for local examples when discussing an initiative like this, and luckily I found some examples.
The issues with the motorbikes also extended outside of Hanoi’s old quarter to the rest of urban Vietnam. Often you will find little regard for the space typically reserved for people walking else where in the world. It is particularly frustrating when you will be walking along on sidewalks and motorbikes will start crowding you on the sidewalk like the image above. Luckily people in Vietnam have found the most effective solution that Bogota also used – put up barriers and physically prevent motorbikes from travelling through. While this is a minor inconvenience for people walking, it works. The barriers typically used were a low cattle-gate around parks thus helping maintain the tranquility (images below). This has proven to be highly effective in creating walking safe havens from the motorbike chaos, and should be deployed citywide as done in Bogota.
Hoi An: Walking and Cycling Town
The other example came from a small Vietnamese town on the eastern coast, Hoi An (not to be confused with Hanoi!) The Hoi An historic town centre was composed of human scaled buildings and narrow streets. In the evenings, the Hoi An historic centre was converted into a car free zone. The solution was quite simple but effective. They simply used the signs depicted in the photos above, declaring Hoi An as a “Walking and Cycling Town.” This removed the motorbike and vehicular traffic creating a peaceful environment to enjoy the areas shops, restaurants, heritage and famous night lanterns. All it took was a few attractive signs and guards to redirect the traffic to alternative roads.
Similar to the Ciclovia which closed kilometres of roads in Bogota, this has also proven to be effective in Vietnam for calming the motorbike. These car-free zones would be effective in creating small pedestrian and cycling areas such as the Hanoi old quarter, and where necessary maintaining a few access roads for business deliveries. These can be incrementally expanded to cover more areas based on demand.