Monday, July 26, 2010

A Plan for Pay Parking Lots in Ulaanbaatar

A plan is in the works for create pay parking lots in Ulaanbaatar. About a dozen lots around the city have been tapped for the plan. About 75% of the spaces are for short term parking and 25 percent for long term overnight parking. Hopefully the money raised by the parking lots will be used to fill in the potholes in other parts of the city! Exactly when these parking lots will be built remains an open question.

The location of the lots include:

*240 spaces at the southern end of Sukhbaatar Square
*71 spaces in front of the Drama Theater
*165 spaces next to the New Children’s Palace (across from Bayangol Hotel)
*216 spaces at the In front of the Ulaanbaatar Hotel
*120 spaces at Builders Square
*159 spaces in front of Yalalt Kino
*118 spaces at Dalai Eej
*96 spaces in front of the Sports Palace
*54 spaces at Zamiin Tsagdaa
*103 spaces at the Train Station

Attached are drawings of what the parking lots would look like…

Drama Theater Parking
Drama Theater

New Children's Palace Parking
Sarnii Titem (New Childrens Palace)

Sukhbaatar Square Parking

Sukhbaatar Square (south end)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Denver Street Opened

First there was Seoul Street, then Tokyo Street, now Ulaanbaatar has Denver Street. That’s right, another Sister City has renamed a street in Ulaanbaatar given it a makeover. This time the city of Denver, USA has gotten into the act.

Unlike Seoul Street and Tokyo Street, which existed before but were spruced up and renamed, Denver Street was created from scratch. A brand spankin’ new stretch of asphalt - a rare but appreciated phenomenon in Ulaanbaatar.

The street occupies the west bank of the Selbe River between Big Ring Road and Zaluuchuudin Ave. In other words, it runs from the US embassy south to the next to the next cross street. It does not continue down the Selbe River to link up with Peace Avenue, which would have been helpful from a traffic point of view, but instead veers onto Zaluuchuudin Street near the Orchlon School.

Formerly a patch of waste ground its now a two-way street with sidewalks, streetlights and benches. But it does not look finished. The street has no trees, no playgrounds, no parks. Not even a sign announcing ‘Welcome to Denver Street’ or some such. It’s pretty much just a street like any other street in UB. Although in fairness the city of Denver tells me (by email) that more improvements are planned for the area. It’s still a work in progress. We’ll just have to wait and see what they do.

The street does have the potential for improvement but there is just one problem – the location. Pedestrians are a rare sight here. Some motor traffic uses it but probably the biggest beneficiaries are people going to and from work at the US embassy (and Lao embassy next door). If the street is meant to improve the urban experience for ordinary citizens of UB, some more work is needed.

Hopefully in the future the road will be extended south to link up with Peace Ave and then continue south to meet the recently built road the runs down to Narny Zam. If done right, it could be a nice area for walkers, joggers and bikers. A bit more green space would attract picnickers and park-goers. This street is worth watching and in time, with some more effort, might just become a new UB landmark.

What would you like to see added to Denver Street? Please add your comments below and they will passed along to the powers that be in Denver. 

Here are some pix of the new street...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Sprinkling of New Parks

A handful of small parks have been popping up near Sukhbaatar Square. The best one is the plaza in front of the Shangri-La building. It has all the ingredients of an actual park - cobblestone walkways, a fountain, a grassy lawn and benches.

Attached to the plaza (between the plaza and the Lenin statue) is a new park that seems to have been built with money donated from Turkey. It also contains new walkways and a fountain. The Turks actually built their park on top of an existing park, but it’s a nice improvement.

Lastly, the little park on the east end of Juulchin Gudamj (opposite the KGB office) has been renovated. This park was built by one of Mongolia’s retired sumo wrestlers, which is why it has a slightly Japanese tea garden feel to it. It had been falling apart in recent years and was spruced up earlier this month.

I am holding out hope that the city of Ulaanbaatar will follow the example set by these private companies and donors and build some parks on its own dime. And hopefully the example set by Shangri-La, the Turks and the sumo wrestler will inspire other local companies to the same. My suggestion for any park builders out there – include a playground in your blueprints. UB's kids will thank you for it.

Here are some pics of the new parks…

Thursday, July 8, 2010

We Have a Plan

I popped by the Ulaanbaatar Planning Office today for a streets and parks update. The department is located inside the City Hall building, the large black glass structure on the west side of Sukhbaatar Square. I have visited the department a number of times, but had never been to their display room. Got a chance to see it today.

The display room is on the 13th floor of this building. Here you can see the department's maps, models and design schematics. The plans include the redevelopment of entire districts, the construction of industrial parks, recreation areas and highways. This is no joke. Serious work had been put into these models and I must admit that I was pretty impressed by their plans. Whether or not the city can find the money to actually put any of these plans into action is a different matter altogether, but for now it’s just nice to dream. If you’ve got an interest in town planning of the future of UB (and if you are reading this blog you probably do), then take a gander down to City Hall and check out this impressive exhibit.

Here are a few of the projects they have on display:
*Plans for new pay parking areas: Sukhbaatar Square, Builders Square, next to the New Children’s Palace and other areas. (should not be to hard to implement)
*Big Ring Road – essentially a highway that will encircle downtown. It includes overpasses to get over the railway and a new road that skirts south of the Naadam Stadium (Construction of this project has already started but could take years to finish)
*Riverside Park – along the north bank of the Tuul River. (One of their best ideas. This will promote green spaces and outdoor activities)
*New district around the airport featuring a modern sports stadium (the stadium is nearly finished)
*Modernization of the ger district the circles Gandan Monastery (would take a long time to move residents out)
*Construction of an enormous Buddhist monument on the hill behind Gesar Sum. (This project has been in the planning stages for over 10 years)
*Construction of a national park in the southeast corner of the city. (Looks like this will go ahead, but will take several years to complete).
*Several schematics for the redevelopment of the districts on the outskirts of the city (we're decades away from these to see the light of day).

Sunday, July 4, 2010

COMMENTARY: A Traffic Solution?

The traffic in Ulaanbaatar is at a standstill. All the time, every day. The streets are so clogged that it could take 30 minutes to an hour just to travel a mile or two across downtown. This is not a problem of too many cars it’s a problem of not enough streets. The traffic problem is more than nuisance; it’s a danger. Emergency vehicles, police cars and fire engines can no longer get around the city. Pedestrians consider themselves fortunate if they make it across the street in one piece.

The city of Ulaanbaatar has taken some steps to alleviate this problem. A new road has opened that connects Olympic street to the Big Ring Road. Some of the alleys between apartment blocks have been upgraded to drivable roads. A pedestrian tunnel was built under the road near the Teacher’s College.

But these small measures have so far had no impact and the traffic continues to worsen by the day. What might help, someday, is the new Big Ring Road being constructed around the city. But this will not be complete for several years.

So can anything be done in the meantime? I think so. In 2008, a few weeks before the Olympics, the authorities in Beijing launched a new traffic scheme. According to the plan, cars that had license plates ending in an odd number were allowed to drive on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Cars that had a license plate ending in an even number could drive on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Anyone could drive on Sunday. A driver driving on the wrong day could be pulled over, fined and have his license suspended. I think such a plan would be worth trying in Ulaanbaatar, at least until a better road network can be constructed. Besides relieving traffic there are other side effects, such as improved air quality and safer streets. The plan would likely increase the use of public transportation, ride sharing or biking. If nothing else, it would get people out of their vehicles and walking more.

Anyone else have any ideas how to alleviate traffic in UB? Please send me your comments.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Seoul Street Makeover

Seoul Street, a major artery in downtown Ulaanbaatar has seen some nice renovation work over the past couple of weeks. Pine trees have been planted along portions of the street, brick sidewalks have been laid down and new street lights installed. Low railings have been put in place to prevent people from walking over the lawn (which has not yet grown). They have even added some benches and garbage cans.

Most of the work has been done between the Drama Theater and the Circus, on the south side of the street. The north side of the street, along the edge of the Russian embassy and Presidential Palace, has not been touched. What has been done is quite tasteful and seems like it should last longer than the last renovation job done on this street, about 10 years ago.

The renovated section probably accounts for about 20% Seoul Street. Still, anything is better than nothing and I must say that this is now probably the best pedestrian street in the city.