Viet Nam News
HÀ NỘI — A longtime resident of Hàng Chiếu Street, 75-year-old Nguyễn Văn Lợi has for many years maintained the daily habit of walking around the Old Quarters for excercise.
After hearing the news that Hàng Chiếu Street will become a pedestrian street at the weekends, he is more than delighted.
Last week, the People’s Committee of Hoàn Kiếm District proposed to the municipal People’s Committee to expand pedestrian areas in the Old Quarters. According to the plan, seven more streets and two alleys will be added to the weekend walking area, namely Hàng Chiếu, Ngõ Gạch, Nguyễn Siêu, Đào Duy Từ (in the section from Hàng Buồm to Hàng Chiếu), Hàng Bạc, Đinh Liệt, Gia Ngư streets, Trung Yên and Cầu Gỗ alleys.
If the plan is approved, these nine streets will deny all vehicular traffic every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 7pm to 12pm (summer time) or from 6pm to 12pm (winter time) starting next month. Restaurants and bars will remain open until 2am on these days.
Cultural performances will be held at Ô Quan Chưởng, one of Hà Nội’s five oldest gates and the former eastern entrance to the capital citadel, Kim Ngân communal house and Chuông Vàng (Golden Bell) theatre.
The district authorities said that the new walking area expansion will create connection with current walking zones, form a major walking complex and contribute to the promotion of the city’s history and culture. They hope it will also reduce traffic jams and encourage locals to walk and use public transport.
These streets belong to the first-level preservation area of the city. It is home not only to centuries-old historic relics like Ô Quan Chưởng and the Thanh Hà communal house, but it is also where more than 200 local households run food, accommodation and commercial businesses.
The expansion plan has raised mixed responses from the area’s residents and workers.
“I think my life will not be affected much by the change. I like it very much. Normally cars still run on the street at midnight. If vehicles are banned, I can go out enjoying a very peaceful and comfortable atmosphere,” long-time resident Lợi said.
A delivery man who usually ships food to restaurants around Mã Mây, Đào Duy Từ, Đinh Liệt, Cầu Gỗ streets said that he totally supports the expansion idea and does not worry about having to leave his motorbike at parking lots and walk carrying loads of food into Old Quarters streets.
“It shows the sign of society’s development, and we have to follow regulations as we become an urban civilisation,” he said.
Vũ Thị Mai, a fruit peddler on Hàng Chiếu Street, says that traffic jams often prevent customers on motorbikes from parking their vehicles along the pavement to select fruits. Once the street is opened for pedestrians, she thinks more people will stop to buy her goods.
However, a great number of locals who operate food and drink stalls seem quite worried.
A bún chả (fresh rice vermicelli and grilled pork) seller on Trung Yên Alley is not optimistic about having more customers when vehicles are banned for walking.
Well-known for Old-Quarters-style street food, the alley is always crowded with rows of customers’ bikes and motorbikes from morning until midnight.
“Most of my customers come here by motorbikes. I think there will be fewer customers,” she said.
Not only food sellers are worried about losses. Many Old Quarters drivers of xích lô (cyclo) also think the ban should only be enforced during the nighttime on narrow streets adjacent to Hoàn Kiếm lake.
The number of tourists using cyclos to trek around the Old Quarter has dropped sharply since walking streets were opened, according to cyclo drivers.
“I would have up to four or five rides a day before the current ban, but now half of the day passes without any customers,” a cyclo driver said.
Many residents in the Old Quarters area are upset with the chaotic scene caused by pedestrians’ noise, litter and rudeness, as corroborated by local media reports since the pedestrian area opened earlier this month.
A woman who sells iced tea on Nguyễn Siêu street—and who asked not to be named—complained that Old Quarters locals are getting exhausted by the long distance walks needed to reach their houses.
“The walking zones serve mainly tourists, but authorities must take account of locals’ worries. The food stalls and bars open until midnight cause disorder and disturbance to locals’ lives. Also, in case of emergency, how will it be if ambulances are also banned?,” she said.
However, not everyone is pessimistic about the walking streets.
Hà Phương, a shop assistant at a milk tea shop on Gia Ngư street, hopes the newly available seating space outside on the pavement will lure more customers.
To prevent impolite behavior such as noise, pushing and jostling in the walking zone, the community must show their attitudes and criticise these behaviors so that bad apples feel embarrassed and change their behaviors, Nguyễn Tiến Đạt, deputy head of TransViet traveling company told Kinh Tế Đô Thị (Economic and Urban Affairs) newspaper.
The weekend pedestrian space in Hà Nội was opened to public in 2004 along with night market on Hàng Ngang, Hàng Đào, Hàng Đường and Đồng Xuân streets.
The first expansion was launched in six more streets in 2014.
Earlier this month, a large walking area comprising 16 streets was open around Hoàn Kiếm lake and Old Quarters, including Đinh Tiên Hoàng, Lê Lai, Lê Thạch, Đinh Lễ, Nguyễn Xí, Tràng Tiền (from Ngô Quyền to Đinh Tiên Hoàng), Hàng Khay, Lê Thái Tổ, Hàng Trống (from street Joseph’s Cathedral to Lê Thái Tổ), Nhà Thờ and the Cathedral square. — VNS