Saturday, October 8, 2011

No Car Day in UB

Saturday was no car day in UB. All traffic was blocked on Peace Ave, Baga Toiruu, Seoul St and Sambuu / Beijing Streets. It was extraordinarily refreshing. Lots of people out today enjoying the easy walking, bike riding and roller blading. I wish they would have more days like this!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Selbe River Make Over

The Selbe River is getting a long awaited make over. The gully that runs north south is being redone with walking paths and public spaces. The project started a few weeks ago and will probably take a year or more to complete but progress is underway. The first area to be developed is the section between the US embassy and the Sky Shopping Mall. This should definitely add some life to an otherwise neglected part of the city.

Monday, September 26, 2011

School No. 5 Park

My last post described a new park behind Ard Kino, let’s just call it the Ard Kino Park (unless anyone can suggest a better name).

Now there is another new park, this one is located behind School No 5. So we’ll call it School 5 Park. (if you are looking for it, walk along the lane that runs along the south side of School 5, then turn left near the soccer field)

Significantly, this one was funded by the government. There is a big sign nearby stating that it was an initiative of Zorigt, Minister of Minerals and Energy.

The park is not as flashy as the Ard Kino Park but it does feature some pavement for roller skating, walkways, benches and gazebos. Certainly its an improvement over the concrete and rubble that was there before. When I visited last Sunday the local residents were hanging around, enjoying their new park. Now we just need to replicate this park in every courtyard around the city.

Another note, directly behind School No 5 is a new soccer field, with artificial turf. It replaces and older dirt soccer field. It’s a great place to kick a soccer ball around but unfortunately it’s usually closed to the general public. Soccer teams practice here frequently but at other times the gates are locked. The same goes for the new soccer field near the Manduhai Hotel. If anyone knows any soccer fields that are open for general use feel free to comment here.

Some pix of the new park…

Monday, September 5, 2011

New Park in UB

A brand new park has officially opened in UB. It’s located behind Ard Kino, near the French Bakery. Its a great addition to central Ulaanbaatar and if you have not already been down there I encourage everyone to go check it out. There are a couple of water fountains, some grassy areas, trees and benches. It is just what every neighborhood in UB needs. The park was not built by the city. It was built by a private investor who was given the land to develop into a park. In return, the investor was given some land to put up an apartment building nearby. Hopefully this park will be a model for other areas of the city. Here are some pix:

Fountain in new park by Ard Kino
New park behind Ard Kino.
New park behind Ard Kino

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Little Ring Road

So the Little Ring Road project is done. The street has been resurfaced and enormous curbs installed. Where the road meets Peace Ave, it has been widened a little, allowing for easier left and right turns. But there are lingering questions, namely, what will be done with the “green space” left between the sidewalk and the road? There is a heck of a lot of space there - about 10m in some spots. For now is pretty much waste ground but, we can only assume, the city has plans to beautify these areas with grass, trees, benches etc. Clearly, the city has elected not to bring more parking spaces along this road. When I look at this land, I think bike lane. It would be a perfect opportunity to make a bike lane in the city center.  There is also plenty of room to make small parks, similar to the little park that has been built on Tourist Street (near Luna Blanca restaurant). What would you do with Little Ring Road? Send in your comments.

An example of the large areas of undeveloped land left on the Little Ring Road. This patch is near Bagshiin Del bus stop (near the UB Hotel). The land could be used for small parks or a bike path around the whole Little Ring Road.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

More Traffic Woes - and solutions?

Traffic this week has been horrific. It must be a perfect storm of pre-Naadam work rush and road construction. The rain yesterday did not help but the traffic was just as bad today even without rain. I walked, of course, clear across town because it was faster than a bus or taxi, and while walking I considered two low cost solutions to the traffic problem…

1. Make UB bike friendly. Build a bike path on Seoul Street and the road from Chinggis Khan Hotel to Tengis Kino, plus other streets, and install a bunch of bike racks. Give people a chance to ride bikes an alternative form of transport.

2. Do what China did during the Olympics - force cars to drive on limited days. If car has a license plate that starts with an even number it can be used Mon, Wed, Fri. If it starts with an odd number it can be used Tues and Thurs. Then switch the following week so that odd number plates can be used on Mon, Wed, Fri. Violators would be fined. By doing this you (in theory) reduce the number of cars on the road by 50%. Yes, some people will find ways to cheat but wouldn’t hurt to try it.

Just my two tugriks. Any one else have any bright ideas?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sukhbaatar Square Street Now Two-Way

The street on the east side of Sukhbaatar Square (between Choibalsan statue and Central Tower) has gone from being one way to two-way street. The intersection at Peace Ave has been widened and now connects with Olympic Street. The picture below is taken next to the Central Tower, with the Foreign Ministry on the other side of the street.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Follow up to Parking Question

I went to City Hall today seeking answers to my earlier question about the parking situation on Baga Toiruu. I couldn’t quite understand the logic behind taking away parking spaces on the road and figured there had to be a reasonable answer.

It seems that taking away spaces was actually a conscious decision made by the city, after recommendations by the Traffic Police. The Traffic Police believe that having less parking spaces will actually reduce traffic problems. Without places to park traffic will flow faster, they say.

I then asked, what happens if a car has to stop to go to a local business? There are tons of small shops and cafes on Little Ring Road and many would lose business if they don’t have parking. The answer was somewhat convoluted but essentially it breaks down like this:

The road engineer says that if businesses have fewer customers because they have less parking then they will have to figure out a way to make their own parking.

I said, how are they going to do that?

He said businesses should knock down the buildings and make new ones that have underground parking.

I then said, well, most of the businesses on Baga Toiruu are small mom and pop shops and cafes, they are not going to be able to knock down their buildings and build new ones with underground parking.

To this he says that those little shops and cafes should never have been built in the first place. He says they are ugly, unsafe and not designed for commercial space (OK, on this he does have a point).

He added that if the businesses get killed off because of this new road design, then the property prices will come down and developers will be able to go in, buy a whole building, knock it down and put up a new one.

He tells me -- those buildings have exceeded their lifespan, they should be torn down and replaced with newer, more efficient buildings.

He concludes by adding that if there are fewer parking spaces, people will use their cars less and will just walk around town. Thereby reducing traffic.

I must admit that I am perplexed by all of this, and somewhat astonished to hear that the city is actually trying to kill off local businesses as a way to get rid of the old Russian buildings.

Now, in conclusion, I ask if they are taking away the parking spaces, where does the city expect people to park in the near term. The answer, he says, it so build huge, multi-story parking garages around the city.

Whoa, I thought he wanted to limit the parking spaces? But now he says he wants to build big parking structures. I consider suggesting to scrap the idea of parking structures and just have street parking, but in the end, I give up.

So let us recap the plans for downtown UB:
*Less street parking
*More parking structures in courtyards
*Dead commercial space
*The eventual destruction of the most unique Russian-era building in the city.

If you can make sense of this, feel free to comment.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Bye-Bye Parking

Baga Toiruu (Little Ring Road) is being totally overhauled and repaved. Drivers will soon be gliding along pot-hole free streets. But the city is strangely removing parking areas along this road. For example, in front of the Flower Center (where Peace Ave and Baga Toiruu meet) they have blocked off the parking area. The same has been done in front of the Golomt Bank up the road and other spots. Whether there is a logical explanation for this, or its just bad planning, is unknown. 

One explanation is that the planners may be trying to increase green spaces where parking areas once were. But even if there are more green spaces, the traffic pile ups caused by a lack of parking could make matters worse. Drivers will inevitably have to stop to do business here and they will end up blocking courtyard entrances or perhaps they will just stop on the road and block a lane. I am including two photos below. 

The first is the blocked off entrance to Golomt Bank. Now that customers cannot park here they are going to have to drive around looking for parking elsewhere, causing more cars on the road.

The second picture is what is think is better planning - a sidewalk, a small green area, and parking area. A good combination in a busy, commercial part of town.

The new road barrier blocks parking spaces in front of this bank. Customers may end up blocking a lane if they need to do business here. Or they are going to scramble around looking for limited parking in other areas, causing more traffic.
This example on Tourist Street (near Zanabazar Museum) is a good use of sidewalk, green space and parking. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Price Hikes at Children’s Park - Is There Any Free Public Space Left?

The Children’s Park is no longer free. Entry is Tg1000 per adult. Small kids still get in free. Prices for rides have also increased, now about Tg4000 per ride. Compared to other amusement parks in other countries, the prices are comparable. It is a private business running the park so it’s not surprising that they would try to increase prices to recoup their investment and try to make a profit. However, this is a worrying trend. As it stands now there is not a single park in central UB that is free and open to the public. This diminishes the quality of life for UB residents, especially low income families that cannot afford to visit the Children’s Park.

Although it does not seem like it, there are a few places around UB that the city could be turned into free, public open space. Along the Selbe River there are several open lots that could be turned into parks, for example behind Royal Castle apartments or next to the US embassy.

And lets not forget that around 70% of the old Children’s Park is still undeveloped. This space could easily be landscaped and opened for public use. I imagine this area could have playing fields for football, walking paths, gardens etc. I am pretty sure that private companies have rights to all these spaces but the government could (and should) use its powers reclaim this land and hand it over to the public to use as park space.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Road Development Increases in 2011

The Ulaanbaatar Road Construction department has seen its budget doubled this year and as a result there is a flurry of road building activity in UB. Here are a few of the current projects:
*University Road - The road between the Choibalsan statue and the Chinese Embassy has been repaved and is now open. It features a handy right turn lane that goes onto Ikh Suguuliin Gudamj. The road is still pretty narrow, as it stands now there is no room for a turn out, which make its difficult to pick up and drop off passengers (which is important in an area with lots of students). The road construction project is now being extended to the section of road just behind Parliament.
*Baga Toiruu (Little Ring Road) - This road is currently being torn up and widened. The project is still in its early stages. At some point in the next few weeks parts of Baga Toiruu will be closed. This is a big project so I am guessing that for the months of June and July most of this road will be closed off. The road construction department says that  the big empty spaces along Baga Toiruu will be turned into parking areas and small green spaces.
*Central Tower / Foreign Ministry - This intersection does not link up well (the streets are about 50m apart), so the city is reconfiguring the intersection so it connects a little bit better. There are left and right turn lanes being added. I am interested to see how this is going to turn out. It also looks like Ikh Suurgullin Gudamj (which runs along the east side of the square) is going to be a two-way street (its currently one way heading north).
*Tserendorjiin Gudamj - This street (between the State Department Store and the Circus) - is finally getting an upgrade. Its about time. When complete this will definitely improve this area, which lately had been really falling apart.
*Some courtyards are getting repaved. I have seen this is the courtyard at the Golden Gobi Guesthouse and behind the History Museum. A good start.
*The Liberty Square / Sambuu Street project is nearly complete. They have added a natural stone walkway in the middle of Sambuu Street, which looks nice but is pretty inaccessible for anyone with a baby stroller or wheel chair (its too bumpy). But the square is a great addition to the city and I have seen lots of kids out there flying kites and riding bikes. The concrete blue whale is still there but I fear his days are numbered.

Newly paved street at the University area.

Natural stone walkway near Tengis Kino.

Newly built Liberty Square by Tengis Kino.