April 22, 2015

Transit-anchored Transformation Afoot in Vientiane, Laos

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Vientiane, the capital of Lao PDR, has emerged as an influential city in Southeast Asia and one that can serve as a demonstration and inspiration for other cities. Faced with rapidly increasing motorization that threatens the appeal and functioning of the city officials and stakeholders are seeking urgent measures to improve transit, walking, and cycling conditions. Working together with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and local officials, ITDP has developed a suite of transportation improvements, to be implemented over the next five years. The ADB recently approved an impressive $35 million loan to finance the improvements, giving Vientiane the opportunity to put its vision into action.

Current conditions at a morning market on a major arterial road in central Vientiane.
Current conditions at a morning market on a major arterial road in Vientiane.

Central to the plan for Vientiane is a 11.5 kilometer BRT corridor through the city’s downtown. In addition to the 24 stations and high-quality corridor design, the plans feature a transit mall through the heart of the historical conservation zone. The project will transform the city’s main downtown roadways from car-dominated thoroughfares (featuring predominantly through-traffic only passing through the city center) into a visually appealing destination anchored by striking BRT stations and clean, fast BRT service. The ‘direct service’ BRT operations, in which BRT buses operate both inside and outside the BRT corridor, will mean BRT routes reach more than 85km of roadways in the city.

Complementing the BRT system are a number of exemplary urban design improvements. Along and around the BRT corridor, ITDP has designed an advanced bike share system which will facilitate ‘last mile’ connections to transit and replace many short trips currently taken by car or motorbike. The proposed system has 76 stations, 1,140 docks and 760 bikes, and has been approved for implementation. As in other cities that have added bike sharing, the system will encourage more residents and tourists to ride, and spur investment in new biking infrastructure, including bike paths.

BRT Rendering Vientiane
A rendering of the BRT and pedestrian projects , which will improve transit, safety, and quality of life in the city.

To increase safety for those on foot, plans for the city call for a range of intersection and road improvements. Proposed measures include creating new complete streets (with bike lanes, public transit, and room for pedestrians), raised intersections, pedestrian refuge islands, and speed tables. The majority of these projects will be concentrated in the central historical zone, the area of the city with the highest pedestrian volumes. A new on-street parking system proposed by ITDP in a major parking study in 2014 will also be implemented, further shifting the emphasis from car-driven growth to one based around smart planning and sustainable transit.

With such comprehensive proposals, Vientiane is demonstrating a commitment to changing how the city grows. It is this vision of a sustainable city and a model for cities in the region that helped secure a significant loan from the ADB to finance the project.

In addition to the $35 million from the ADB, significant funding will come from additional international institutions, the private sector and local government to encourage the project.  The European Investment Bank, European Union’s Asian Investment Facility, Global Environment Facility (GEF), OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) will all contribute funding, the private sector is expected to co-finance nearly $50 million in support, and the local government is providing counterpart funds of $14.5 million.

The significant investment will transform Vientiane, providing dramatic benefits and greatly improving access to and through the city center, which is the main concentration of employment in the city. As always, though, the implementation of the project will be critically important to maximizing the success of the investment. Although ITDP’s studies and plans provide an excellent foundation, the city and ADB will require high quality technical support during engineering design and construction.

Header image of Patuxai, or Victory Gate, in central Vientiane. Credit Glay Gilliland, Flickr, cc.

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