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Thailand: taking the first step for a green Chiang Mai

Chanin Manopiniwes's picture
Also available in: ภาษาไทย

Everyone who travels to Thailand will want to have Chiang Mai on their list. It’s an old city which reflects the lovely northern Thai culture and has a lot of significant history behind it. My wife and I spent our first anniversary there because it’s very nice and peaceful. Chiang Mai is a place where Thais often go to recharge and take advantage of the slower pace of life. I have started recently travelling to Chiang Mai more often for work, but even that is also pleasurable.



Chiang Mai has grown so much, and so fast. We see more and more cars in the city center. The traffic jams are becoming problematic and the public transportation issue remains an unsolved problem. To help, the World Bank is supporting the Chiang Mai Municipality's vision of promoting “green mobility” with help from the Global Environment Facility (GEF). It is a small pilot project that supports non-motorized transport, such as walking and bicycling, by improving city center's walk path and bicycle lanes in the city center.

There were several rounds of consultations about the project that took place over a few months between the communities and the local government in Chiang Mai. I was an observer in most of these consultations and I was delighted to see positive outcomes after each meeting. Most communities who lived around the old city in Chiang Mai felt that the project was okay while the communities around the pilot project site had concerns about road closures and worsening traffic.

Everyone had different perspectives but they all wanted the best for Chiang Mai and their communities. Although they sometimes disagreed on certain points, both the community and local government listened to each other. Their patience and open-mindedness were key.

Now the project is moving forward. The design for the pedestrian/bicycle friendly recreation area is based on suggestions of the communities. We will have pedestrian/bicycle-friendly recreation areas right in the heart of Chiang Mai city by early 2014. What can your city do to become greener?


I have shared time between homes in Australia and Chiang Mai for the past ten years. My impression is that the past two years have seen more development and re-development take place than in the preceding eight years. Further, I would say that traffic congestion has doubled during the same two year period. If the same rate of increase is sustained then Chiang Mai will quickly change from being a very pleasant and livable place to one that is much more like BKK.

To change this will require not just an extremely well thought-out plan but also close inter-agency co-ordination. It will demand that difficult and unpalatable decisions be made and pushed through to implementation. I wish I could be more optimistic but I struggle to see significant progress taking place when set against the dense and opaque backdrop of patronage, saving face, mai pen rai, and endemic corruption.

Submitted by Dean on

I visited Chiang Mai recently (Aug 2017) and my suggestion to make the city one of the most appealing in Asia, if not the world would be to ban (or at least severely curtail) motorised traffic within the walls of the old city. This would entail the removal of much of the commercial activity that currently occurs within and would call for the removal of most of the buildings constructed within the last 100 years. Imagine a vast traffic free precinct devoted to tourism, religion, history, culture and the arts. So much traffic free space in Asia - You may say I am a dreamer.....

I share your concern, Bruce. Inter-agency coordination as well as the political wills will be required for change. As you rightly said it, these "requirements" do not come easy in such a complex society. I hope that the ongoing changes in Thai society as a whole demonstrates more, real people's participation, as we observed in this project. And I hope, as people gets more involved in important decisions in their society, we can see some light at the end of the tunnel.

Submitted by Olivier Chiang Mai on

Enough time lost, now is time to act...
Turn red taxi to gas engines, limit the numbers of private cars in traffic-jammed areas such as University for instance, severely limit burning, control emissions from factories...etc.

Submitted by Ricky Ward on

Well Khun Chanin , I was at perhaps the last of the several consultation sessions. Not invited by the local government, as were many who attended, but by friends at the last minute. The meeting was far from having "positive outcomes". People were furious that there had been a number of secret consultations, which came up with a plan to dig up recent paving at the 3 Kings square, lay some more, avoid planting shady trees and having no effect on the ability to walk or cycle safely in the city. This I might add is a city which has let bike lanes disappear with no maintenance for 6 years thanks to the current Mayor. The Mayor was too cowardly to attend, but his secretary and No 2 were there and very quiet until the end, when the deputy mayor did a little show, quite a showman really, saying no no no the plan would not go ahead. Now guess what - it is proceeding pretty much as planned and the bike lanes are still invisible. You know perfectly well that local government here is run by crooks who regularly violate the Thai Constitution, and yet you assist them and not the people. Shame on you.

Thank you for your comment. There are efforts to extend the consultation to as many people as possible. I believe that Chiang Mai Municipality reached out to community leaders to represent the people in the area and conducted the consultation in March 2013. The community around the project area also went to Chiang Mai Municipality to discuss the public consultation process. Since July 2013, Chiang Mai Municipality organized several more public consultation meetings with the communities (there were around 3-4 consultation sessions) until the change of the design was agreed with the communities in late September 2013. I trust that the communities have been in close contact with Chiang Mai Municipality on the progress. Community members even help monitoring the contractor's work, and their comments were followed by the municipality to ensure quality works from the contractor. While clearly much more work will have to be done, we hope that this pilot project will start contributing to the use of non-motorized transport in Chiang Mai once completed.

Submitted by Ricky Ward on

Thank you for posting my comment as it appeared you were avoiding doing so. However your response appears to avoid the issues. 1: The project has nothing to do with improving cycling and walking and reducing pollution; 2: The so-called community consultation is a farce and the bank should either have made sure it was genuine or pulled the plug on it. James from City Life has asked you to contact him but informs me you have not. It is such a simple matter to put out a press release to all the local outlets at every stage of the process to inspire the community to be involved. This omission is reprehensible. We know what "Chiang Mai Municipality reached out to community leaders" means. It means talking to mates of the mayor and his clique. The national government did likewise with its 350 billion baht water management project, was forced by the court to engage in consultation and then again did its best to exclude possible objectors. Little wonder that some in their exasperation are turning to that demagogue Suthep.

Hello Ricky,

Chanin's blog entry is about his impressions of the many consultations and concerns over Chiang Mai's need for green transportation alternatives. We also welcome your opinion of the consultation you attended. Our bloggers reply to comments as soon as they can but are also limited by timezone constraints and main work duties. I have passed on to Chanin your email address (the one you used when you sent your comment, which we don't post publicly) so he can get in touch and see your future queries right away. If you would prefer that he contact you at another address, please reply to this message with the address of your preference --I will not publish it, but will pass it along to him as well.

-- Claudia
Blog admin

Submitted by Ricky Ward on

Thanks Claudia for passing on my email to Chanin. However I prefer he responds to queries using the transparent medium of the blog. This means all readers are informed for often I find others ask questions which are in my mind. One question I have which the community might be wondering about is the present ongoing replacement of the paving shown in the photo at the head of the blog with grey granite stone tiles. This is an exercise requiring the use of much energy i.e. generating CO2, which appears to involve a large use of funds which will do nothing to improve the amenity of the area let alone discourage motorized transport. Are the World Bank or GEF giving any financial support for this work?

Hi, Ricky. The project team takes public consultations seriously and we recommended that there should be further consultations with communities. Chiang Mai Municipality held more consultations and they modified the original design to meet the concerns of the local communities. The voices of people who live in Chiang Mai are important. So, while there were trade-offs between contributions to green transport and the concerns of local community, we believe that the Chiang Mai Municipality did their best to ensure concerns were addressed. The original design of the area aims to discourage motor vehicle use by raising the road level and give priority to pedestrians (and non-motorized modes), as the cars will have to slow down when approaching the area. However, the people who live around the area feel that they will be negatively impacted by such drastic change. Four consultation sessions were held and the design was modified several times until it satisfied and was accepted by concerned communities. The changes will have less impact in terms of promoting non-motorized modes, but we believe that it is also important to address people’s concerns and take a gradual approach to build understanding of the people about the positive and negative impacts of NMT vis-à-vis car use which is especially challenging in a car-dominated society like Thailand. Experiences from abroad suggest that, by encouraging NMT and discouraging car use in a city area, especially old town area or tourism area, local businesses are boosted as people spent more time in the area and thus spent more money. NMT improvement could even help reinvigorate the neighborhood. This may run in contrast to the current perception of local communities that by discouraging car, it will negatively impact local businesses and this explained resistance to an effort to promote NMT under the project. Public opinion in support of NMT will underpin any success of NMT policies but it will take time to shape public opinion. Many thanks.

Submitted by Ricky Ward on

Dear Khun Chanin, Thanks for your response. It appears that you may not have read last week's local report on your project so please see and show your team. It appears that the WB is paying for the scheme which in the opinion of many I have spoken to will further undermine NMT in Chiang Mai. More in the way of explanation should be following.

Submitted by Olivier Chiang Mai on

Pollution in Chiang has become a real problem many years ago and this city is now truly unhealthy 4 to 5 months a year. Still barely anything concrete has been undertaken by the local powers.
One suggestion to make WB budget worthwhile: turn red taxi (songtaew) into "green" taxis, by encouraging them to switch to gas engines. They are currently the biggest polluters in Chiang Mai with their old diesel engines...but they are also cheap and quite reliable. Such transition to gas engines (see Taxis in Bangkok for instance) would cost much less than developing new public transport systems. There are plenty of ways to do so: from direct public support for engine transition to fiscal and commercial incentives (tax cuts, monopoly on some destinations etc.)
There would also be a need to limit the number of private cars in some areas such as the University.

Submitted by James on

Hi Mr Chanin,

I have been told that none of this money was used and no such initiatives to make a 'green' Chiang Mai happened? Can you respond to that please? I'd like to know what happened as it is something I am writing about right now. Thanks.


Dear Khun Chanin,
Thank you very much for what you are doing towards a "green mobility" in Chiang Mai. I would also appreciate, however, if you could be more explicit about the actual Project definition, as your description at appraisal for this GEF grant (July 2011) is pretty vague. In particular: against which Projects components (eligible expenditures) are you planning to disburse the GEF grant? I say "planning" as the initial deadline for grant disbursement (July 2013) was postponed to Dec. 2013 and seems now moved to March 2014. Of course you know that with GEF, it is international public money that is made available to the WB and full accountability is therefore a must. I wonder also how you can improve the "share of personal trip by non-motorised transport ... to 10%, from a baseline of 4%" which is one of your measurable performance indicator for this Project. Some readers above have suggested feasible and quite straightforward actions, and we could also add the obvious pedestrian areas and cycling lanes, at least within the town's moat. However, a campaign for the improvement of the local environmental awareness seems to me also of paramount importance. In short, the case may not be totally hopeless (as some readers have suggested), since where there is a will, there is also a way. Chiang Mai still deserves a chance to become once again the "garden city" of Thailand.

Submitted by Ricky Ward on

Walking in Chiang Mai gets harder thanks to the Local Government : ...

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