Hybrid Canal-Rail Transit Connectivity
Yanyong Boon-Long, AIA
In 2012, I wrote a peer-review paper in the book “The Design and Development of Sustainable Cities: International and Thai Perspective on Urban Design in the 21th Century
”. The book was published by Thammasat University. Professor Peter G. Rowe from Harvard University help reviewed the book while Professor Vimolsiddhi Horayangura provided the main editorial framework.
The paper calls for resurrecting Bangkok’s ancient canals and connecting them with Metro Rapid Transit (MRT) system. There are over a thousand waterways in Bangkok. So, why not take advantage of a slower but wide-spread network of canals and connect them to a faster network of Metro transit?
In terms of the city’s overall connectivity, such hybrid linkages of canals and metro transit would provide rapid – and random – long distant “jump” across the city, a phenomenon that could not be provided by any one type of transit system alone.
By April 2014, I’m have initiated a research project with Rockefeller Foundation and Thammasat University to further study this canal-Metro connectivity issues. This research is still on-going and involves multiple stake-holders ranging from private companies to public sectors.
Ever noticed that you tend to find love through a distant friend rather a close friend? The same is true of jobs; you usually find the right jobs through distant friends because your close friends are far less likely to provide you with new unexpected information.
Small Work Network Graph (Watt and Strogatt, Cornell University) shows us that information tends to move more rapidly when dissimilar nodes connect with one another.
In the graph shown above, if you are represented by ‘A’ and your prospective lover is ‘C’, then it would take you across many nodes to arrive at ‘C’. In this case, you are trying to find love through your close friends; and you’d end up saying: “True love is hard to find”.
On the other hand, if you speak to a distant friend (‘B’), who is someone you don’t really know too well, then you could jump across and connect to person ‘C’ right away, with only 1 degree of separation. In this case, you’d say “the true joy of life is to live dangerously!”
Similarly, people could find jobs and new economic opportunities through a hybrid system of transit that connects distant nodes together in unexpected ways. This would lead to new opportunities such as being able to jump across the city and go to schools that were inaccessible before; or being able to take new jobs and employees that are not part of your close-knitted canal circle.
Advantages of Canal-Metro Connection
1. Connection Speed:
It provides an opportunity for a faster connection speed between nodes. (Within a given city) Hybrid Transit network allows for the phenomenon of Small World Network to come into play.
The number of possible ‘connectivity’ within a given city – regardless of connection speed – could be expressed using the permutation function. Since we want two-way directional connectivity, so we use permutation rather than combination function (*Note that the combination function is being used in ‘Metcalfe Law’ to express telecommunication network connectivity).
‘Connectivity’ and ‘connection speed’ are two different things. For example, you could have a very high internet speed with very few nodes of connectivity. Or you could have a city-wide network of connectivity at a very low connection speed.
The connectivity of a given city can be expressed as:
P(n,r) = n(n-1)(n-2)(n-3)…(n-r+1) = n!/(n-r)!
Where ‘r’ = 2 (two connecting nodes such as A-B, B-A, or B-C etc.)
‘n’ = number of nodes
So with ‘r’= 2, we ended up with:
P(n,r) = n(n-1)
In this example, if you double the number of nodes, you don’t double the number of connectivity – but you quadrupled the connectivity. The connectivity increases exponentially as more nodes are added.
Opportunities for Investors
1. Retail Shops at Canal-Metro Stations
The intersection(s) of canal lines and Metro stations is an ideal place for retail activities. These canal-to-Metro stations could act as catalysts in regenerating the much needed economic activities and jobs for the informal settlements along the canals. They would also enable informal residents to gain faster access to healthcare facilities and service along rail lines that were previously out of their reach.
2. Community Ports
Local “Community ports” could be set up along the canals to transport small cargo. Small consumer goods and products could be delivered continuously throughout the day – unlike automobile transport which is limited by fixed delivery time in the early morning or night time.
The Community Port could operate by charging fees for using its service; the money collected will be shared with the community and the investors.
3. New Fleet of Boats
Investment should be made in new enclosed boats that are safe and accessible to seniors and working professionals. People should be able to work while in transit –similar to being in a subway.
No subway car in the world is open to the tunnel (exposing the riders to rats, garbage, and other unpleasant odor); why should canal boats be open to smelly waterways?
The current canal boats in Bangkok are very much sub-standard and are not accessible to seniors and kids. They are open to polluted water and the riders must hold up plastic curtains to keep their face dry.
It’s a chicken and egg scenario. What should come first? Clean waterways? Or transit riders? I opted for more transit riders as a tool for economic development around the canals so that the standard of living of along the canals could be improved. There would be more demand to clean up the canals once there is more ridership.
Bangkok is a mega-city with a population of over 10 million. The average Bangkokian spends 4 hours in traffic jam – half of their productive work life. This leads to high anxiety level combined with high environmental problems.
Resurrecting the ancient canal networks could help alleviate Bangkok’s connectivity’s problem, free up commuting time for its residents, and develop new economic activities.