[EDITORIALS]A downtown for pedestrians

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[EDITORIALS]A downtown for pedestrians

Downtown Seoul is going to be transformed into a place where walking is a pleasure. The Seoul Metropolitan Government announced yesterday that it will completely change the streets in the heart of the city so that pedestrians are given more consideration than cars.
First of all, the street carts that line the main boulevard of Jongno will be cleared away. Also, the Seoul government and Korea Electric Power Corp. will each spend 46.7 billion won ($46.3 million) to move the big switchboard cabinets away from the main roads to side streets or small parks.
Presently, the streets of Seoul can be summed up as chaotic, incongruous and uncomfortable for walking. It has long been difficult to imagine enjoying a walk in the city. The situation becomes clear when one compares Jongno to the Champs-Elysees in Paris. The Champs-Elysees is designed more for pedestrians than for cars Not even half of its full width is reserved for auto traffic. The sidewalks are 15 meters wide; there are also 43 crosswalks.
Car traffic gets 30 more meters of room on Jongno than on the Champs-Elysees; pedestrians get just six meters, which is why they have to jostle each other. And as if the sidewalks weren’t crowded enough, more space is taken up by food stalls, subway grates and switchboard boxes. Meanwhile, the lack of crosswalks forces people up and down stairs to use the underpasses.
The rules of urban engineering have it that automobiles are the core means of transportation for countries with per capita income from $5,000 to $10,000. But when per capita income passes $15,000, walking and mass transportation become the primary means. In this sense, the city is looking in the right direction by seeking to widen sidewalks and reduce space for automobiles. But along with this plan, downtown must be made more mass-transportation-friendly. Not all streets have bus-only lanes; that must change. We must also consider imposing fees to cut down on downtown car traffic.
Pedestrians should be the “kings of the street.” Cars have owned the streets for some time, but now they must be returned to the people. With Seoul Plaza as the central point, there must be a network of pedestrian roads connecing Jongno, Namdaemun, Cheonggye Creek and Gwanghwamun. Only when central Seoul becomes a place where people can walk around freely will we be able to anticipate a true transformation of the city.
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