Friday, February 26, 2016

Traveling in the Sky

Traveling in the Sky

Often during our stay in Bangkok I feel that I am some kind of underground animal who lives in the shadows. It seems that much of the time I walk the streets I am sheltered under a concrete umbrella. That cement parasol is actually a part of the Bangkok elevated Skytrain transportation system, usually called the BTS.

In the 1990s, the ground transportation in Bangkok became so congested and the air so polluted from all of the automobile traffic that the government knew that they had to solve the problem. When the average speed of cars in the downtown area during rush hour became less than seven mph, the demand for change led to building the BTS.

In 1999, the BTS was officially opened with a series of 23 elevated train stations zooming along about 60 feet in the air over top of many of the cities major roadways. This concrete railway in the sky is fantastic! Today there are an average of over 500,000 riders daily using 34 different stations and extending over 36 kms. The system is fast, clean, relatively inexpensive, reliable and safe. What more could you ask for?

Anytime that you are in a popular or business area, the Skytrain is visible whizzing over your head. Sometimes I am not in a BTS served part of Bangkok and there is still a concrete snake high over my head. It is one of the dozen elevated highways that have also been built in the air to allow ground traffic to flow more quickly. Adjacent to Berkley School, where the family teaches, there is an eight lane main highway with two, three lane service roads running parallel on both sides. Then, above this 14 lane speedway, there is another elevated highway with at least six more lanes. It has to be seen to be believed. And this is only one of many mega highway arteries within Bangkok.

In addition, Bangkok has an underground metro system that services other parts of this huge city. There is a special rail link from the airport to the downtown core and there are plans to add another dozen or more BTS stations to extend the two main lines further into the suburbs. Anyone who works near the Chao Phraya River, which divides the city of Bangkok, is served by a speed boat taxi and ferry service up, down and across the river.

On the actual ground there are endless cars, a bus system, thousands of taxis, motorbike taxis, and tuk tucks to move passengers along the surface. During morning and evening “rush” hours you can spend hours crawling along looking for an escape route, usually to no avail. 

Anyone who complains about traffic in Calgary just needs to spend an hour or two in a car in Bangkok to begin to understand the real meaning of “traffic congestion”. Each day when I leave our condo, I walk under the shadow of the BTS, climb 100 stairs to the departure platform and avoid the heavy traffic by travelling in the sky in a modern train to my next destination. It is a life saver! Thanks BTS!

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