Viet Nam News recently reported on Hanoi’s experimentation with traffic congestion problems. With more cars than ever on the road, Vietnam’s streets, accustomed to more fluid motorbike traffic, are in a state of shock. Hanoi’s answer? Designate lanes for car and motorbike use.
Cars that trespass across lanes will pay a VND 400,000 ($25) fine, while deviant motorbike drivers will suffer a less severe VND 80 – 100,000 fine ($5-6). Jay walkers will also be penalized to the tune of VND 20 – 40,000 ($1.20-2.50).
This sounds easy enough, but the motorbike culture in Vietnam is a rootless, unwritten negotiation between motorists based on split decisions and tacit understandings. Traffic is a fluid, amorphous phenomenon. The problem is that the motorbike culture, inculcated because few Vietnamese could afford a car throughout decades of privation, didn’t anticipate the economic booms in Hanoi and Saigon. The culture simply can’t accommodate these vehicular status symbols.
But proof of the culture’s entrenchment is the fact that Hanoi has only implemented the measures on a single 1.635 km-long road. The plan is to roll out the policy on additional streets later in the year. In Saigon, the roads in District 7 are designated for car and motorbike usage, but the district’s rational planning is the result of ambitious land reclamation and redevelopment. Indeed District 7’s roads look absolutely Martian relative to the cramped motorways across the rest of the city.
Another sign that traffic departments have their work cut out for them: a few years ago, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency came to Hanoi to implement the same plan, but the joint international venture failed.