HANOI (Reuters) - World famous for its endless swarms of motorcycles, Vietnam is considering banning bikes in the capital over fears its leafy streets will become overrun as the population swells and its middle class buys up cars in record numbers.
Hanoi is forecast to have seven million motorcycles on its roads in the next two years - almost the same as its current population - leaving city bigwigs with a crisis on their hands as cars, buses and bikes jostle and petrified pedestrians run the gauntlet crossing streets.
The Communist Party's Hanoi chapter started polling on Monday ahead of a new urban plan and central to that is making the capital's motorcycles extinct by 2025, according to Voice of Vietnam radio.
But it hasn't gone down well with bikers, who say the economy would grind to a halt if Hanoians were denied a mode of transport they've grown up with and use to ferry around anything from beer crates and cooking gas tanks to rice sacks and small families.
"It's impossible. It will cause difficulties for bureaucrats, employers, students and traders," said Pham Van Chinh, a motor-taxi driver.
Street vendor Ho Huu Chat called for a U-turn on the idea.
"This should be reconsidered," he said. "Businesses will be affected."
Vietnam's rapid economic growth has seen household incomes quadruple since the turn of the century, with one in every two of its 90 million people owning a motorcycle, and car sales surging 55 percent last year, Southeast Asia's fastest rate.
That's exacerbating the chaos in the "Paris of Asia", known as much for its cacophonic horns and snarl-ups as it is for its French colonial architecture, ubiquitous lakes and tree-lined boulevards.
Though construction of elevated rail and metro systems are under way, they won't be ready anytime soon and some Hanoians think the bikes trend is irreversible.
"The number of vehicles is so huge now," said motorcycle repair man Ngo Van Thanh. "People cannot agree with the ban."
(Reporting Nguyen Tien Thinh and Ho Binh Minh; Writing by Martin Petty)