PHUKET: Plans to introduce an “experimental” U-turn channel for the big inter-provincial buses slated to depart Phuket’s new bus terminal on Thepkrasattri Rd exhibit a novel approach to a vexing problem. But the enterprise is likely to confuse motorists who are unfamiliar with the somewhat unique, if not tragic, behavior we witness daily on the roads of Phuket.
Let us quickly summarize the proposed solution, as described on the front page of the current issue of the Phuket Gazette. (Digital subscribers click here to download your copy of the full issue.)
Departing coaches will turn left out of the new station and drive south on the shoulder (or ‘breakdown lane’) along Thepkrasattri Rd until they reach the so-called ‘Tantalum Junction’.
Modified traffic lights at that junction will signal all other traffic to stop, theoretically giving the lumbering buses the space they need to move across two lanes of southbound traffic before executing a 90-degree right turn which will take them in an arc across the two lanes of northbound traffic.
The fact that such a system has, so far as we know, never been tried anywhere else in the world might set off at least a few warning bells. For it to work safely and effectively, everything will have to be very clearly marked.
There will also need to be an active and caring police presence at all times, especially at night, to alert the bus drivers to motorbikes travelling north with no headlights in the south bound lanes, and those hurtling south with no headlights in the northbound lanes.
Most important of all is that motorists will need to exercise patience, discipline and common sense – virtues not always in evidence here. Failure to comply with the rules could produce some messy results – such as being crushed to death by buses which can weigh up to 30 tons before they are loaded.
This will not be the first time that Phuket authorities have resorted to baroque solutions to the island’s many iconic traffic cartoons.
The one-way system introduced in Patong in 2007 continues to confound visiting drivers. One unique characteristic of the system is the need for drivers to “keep right” on some of Patong’s east-west roads. These unique arteries are almost surely the only ones in Thailand where a North American driver can feel right at home… until hitting oncoming traffic turning into his or her east-west road at the next intersection with a north-south one.
When he took up his post early this year, Kathu Police Superintendent Arayapan Pukbuakao announced as his top priority for Patong the redirection of the one-way system from clockwise to anti-clockwise by years end. We hope he will make good on that goal.
As for the new bus U-turn, if things turn ugly don’t be surprised if local residents take to the streets in protest. After all, this is what they did back in 1986 when they burned down the tantalum factory that bequethed the junction its name.
But the Gazette would advise readers not to worry excessively about the brave new bus experiment. The terminal itself continues to sit in silence, idle nine months after its completion and with no opening date sufficiently credible to be announced.
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