Mimi Kirk is a contributing writer to CityLab covering education, youth, and aging. Her writing has also appeared in The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, and Smithsonian.
The Vietnamese government has announced a plan to ban millions of motorbikes from the city center by 2025. It already faces opposition from residents.
In Hanoi, the simple act of crossing the road can be like an extreme sport. Dozens, if not hundreds, of motorbikes whiz by in both directions, with nary a streetlight in sight. A pedestrian must step off the curb and walk carefully but confidently to the other side, trusting that traffic will flow around them. Otherwise, they’ll be standing there for hours, waiting for a pause in the madness.
Such a scene may not be typical of the Vietnamese capital in the future. Hanoi’s leaders recently announced a plan to make the city’s inner streets motorbike-free by 2025. Around five million motorbikes and half a million cars currently share the city’s roads; those numbers are projected to increase to seven million and one million, respectively, by 2020—growth that’s likely to lead to untenable congestion, not to mention more polluted air.
A main reason for the increase in vehicles is Vietnam’s massive economic growth. Household income has quadrupled since 2000, and half of the country’s 90 million people can now afford to own a motorbike. Car sales rose by 55 percent in 2015.
“The traffic situation in Hanoi will become extremely complicated in the next four to five years,” Mayor Nguyen Duc Chung said recently at a public meeting. “We really need a timely solution.”
To compensate for the proposed ban on motorbikes, the government plans to augment Hanoi’s public transportation. It seeks to double the number of buses (currently at around 1,000) and construct two metro lines in the next five years, with four more by 2030.
Already there is opposition to the plan. Motorbike users, many of whom use the bikes as an inexpensive and convenient way to cart goods around the city, are concerned. Another obstacle is the bikes’ constant use in daily life, now a hallmark of Hanoi culture.
Critics also point out that the metro project has already been delayed, and may not be in place in time to provide an alternative to motorbikes. Moreover, with or without the metro, the ban leaves downtown roads to the more well-to-do, who can afford to purchase cars. “It’s great if… public transport can be provided for the less well off,” Steve Jackson, a communications professional who has lived in Hanoi since 2004, told the Guardian. “But not if it means the aim is to leave the roads for the wealthy.”