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01. Our semi-academic articles on Urban Studies

Updated: Oct 21, 2022

Reviving Water-Based Transportation Could Benefits Bangkok More Than Its Traffic Issues

Bangkok has always been at its crossroad and Bangkokian has always been able to adapt themselves to the changes. While the air quality issues become center of attentions at this moment, people started to put on protective masks as an adaptive response and experts are suggesting practical ways for Bangkok to become breathable again, but only few talks about how the city’s transportation configuration effect the air quality and how we could change them in response to the air pollution issue. In this essay, we point out that one major infrastructure renovation that could alleviate the traffic density, the major source of current air quality issue, while also making the city more resilience and livable. This infrastructure shift originally aims to drift away from the current pollution issue could lead to a brighter path than the city could imagine.

Back in the days when the city was formed, as situated in Chao Phraya flood plain and having the river run through the city, Bangkok’s main transportation mode was the Chao Phraya river and canals. There were advance canal systems since 1780s which serve not only transportation but many other aspects of life: military purpose, agriculture, sanitary, or recreation. With its 1,682 canals of 2,600 kilometers in total, shaped the society into water-based community, and hence the city was once called “Venice of the East”. However, since westernization started in 1860s, it had constantly erased the importance of canals and their function were limited to drainage and only left partially commutable, resulted in people neglected the canals and led to the deterioration. While the canal systems were diminishing from the city commuting scene, the road systems expanded, and later the mass transit and rail systems.

Number of studies indicated that air-pollutions, especially PM 10 and PM 2.5, are traffic-related; where automobile emission is the major source of pollutants. In order to reduce the emission, encouraging people to use alternative transportation such as EV car or mass transit is one of the solutions. It had also been studied that if the canal systems enable for transit, they could connect more people, especially the low-income population, to the mass transit systems. There were 97 canals and 135 mass transit stations that could support this connection. However, due to the abandonment of the canals which made the boat unable to ride, and the regression of the communities around them which made passersby feel unsafe, thus connecting these two modes are not quite practical as yet. In response to these issues, the writer, with her team, had proposed a physical transformation of the canals and the adjacent communities to enable water-based transportation in Bangkok as part of the international student design competition, UrbanSOS 2015

The proposal focused on improving three aspects of canals with socio-economic development of the community. The three aspects that we focused on the canals were:- to make them clean, unclogged, and navigable. The physical solutions for the water quality were to apply sanitary systems to houses along the canal’s side and build constructive wetlands along the canal’s side to purify the water. The shape of the canal was suggested to change to support water drainage. Also, the canals should be widening and paved with rough materials to reflect the waves and allow boats to navigate at certain speed. The pier will also act as community gathering space and allow local shops to open for circulating the economy. These changes will support the canal’s navigation while improving the surrounding environment and also economically benefits the community.

As many experts accused that pollution from motor vehicle is one of the major causes of current air quality issue, maybe reviving water-based transportation could be one of the solutions to this wicked problem. Revitalizing the canal, if done correctly, will not only absorb commuters from the roads and reduce the emission but could also lead the city to an overall better environment. In the crisis of the air pollution, if we consider the infrastructure shift to the greener one, it will provide the city with multibenefits that could lead Bangkok to a more integrated resilience and livable path.


Chuersuwan, N., Nimrat, S., Lekphet, S., & Kerdkumrai, T. (2008). Levels and major sources of PM2. 5 and PM10 in Bangkok Metropolitan Region. Environment international, 34(5), 671-677.

Iamtrakul, P., Srivanit, M., & Klaylee, J. (2017). Resilience in Urban Transport Towards Hybrid Canal-Rail Connectivity Linking Bangkok’s Canal Networks to Mass Rapid Transit Lines. International Journal of Building, Urban, Interior and Landscape Technology; BUILT, 10, 27-42.

Poboon, C., 1997. Anatomy of a traffic disaster: towards a sustainable solution to Bangkok's transport problems (Doctoral dissertation, Murdoch University).

Punpuing, S. and Ross, H., 2001. Commuting: The human side of Bangkok's transport problems. Cities, 18(1), pp.43-50.

Sahanavin, N., Tantrakarnapa, K., & Prueksasit, T. (2016). Ambient PM10 and PM2. 5 concentrations at different high traffic-related street configurations in Bangkok, Thailand. Southeast Asian Journal of Tropical Medicine and Public Health, 47(3), 528-535.

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