Pedes­trian prob­lems

Can we live in a coun­try where we can walk to places, rather than driv­ing and in­creas­ing the traf­fic and pol­lu­tion? yes, but town plan­ning for pedes­tri­ans needs to be im­proved.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - INBOX - DZOF AZMI

LOOK­ING at my body shape, you may not be­lieve that I do oc­ca­sion­ally ex­er­cise. I get up at dawn and walk for about half an hour in to­tal, map­ping a cir­cuitous route around the area where I live.

How do I get the mo­ti­va­tion? Half way through, I stop for a nasi lemak and teh tarik.

Of course, you may ar­gue that tak­ing a break to eat (nour­ish­ment, I say!) de­feats the pur­pose of walk­ing in the first place, but I will counter that if that shop was not within walk­ing dis­tance – and it serves very good nasi lemak – then I would not be walk­ing in the first place!

Apart from shops that sell good food, I am also able to walk to the fol­low­ing: a wet mar­ket, three su­per­mar­kets, a cin­ema, a hospi­tal, three clin­ics, at least ten banks, two book­shops and three play­grounds.

In the next few years, there will also be an MRT sta­tion, to­gether with hope­fully an im­proved feeder bus net­work. If I cy­cle, the reach stretches fur­ther to four shop­ping malls and jun­gle trekking.

True, I still have to drive for meet­ings, fam­ily and friends, but all my daily er­rands are only a thou­sand foot­steps and a bit away.

It sounds like my neigh­bour­hood is a pedes­trian-friendly haven, but you wouldn’t know it by look­ing around.

It’s not true to say the side­walks are in poor con­di­tion, more that they don’t ex­ist in the first place.

Get­ting any­where worth go­ing is de­pen­dant on the few over­head bridges cross­ing high­ways which are nei­ther wheel­chair nor pram-friendly.

The story feels quite sim­i­lar around most of Kuala Lumpur. If you Google “Kuala Lumpur pedes­trian friendly” you

will find blog posts on the mat­ter by back­pack­ers who have vis­ited Malaysia. They com­plain that the city is “con­fus­ing and dif­fi­cult to nav­i­gate” and that “KL mer­its an en­tirely new cat­e­gory: pedes­trian im­pos­si­ble”. One tried to walk to the na­tional mu­seum from KL Sen­tral and gave up to take a taxi.

(Ob­vi­ously, he didn’t try hard enough, be­cause Google Maps gives two sug­ges­tions for pedes­tri­ans: one is to cross four lanes in front of the Jalan Travers po­lice sta­tion and then cross an on-ramp and an off-ramp to the front of the mu­seum; the other is to go along the on ramp to Jalan Da­mansara and walk be­side six lanes of traf­fic, pre­sum­ably on that patch of tar­mac re­served for emer­gency stops.)

Ar­guably, there are very few Malaysian cities that are truly pedes­trian friendly. The most suc­cess­ful are those whose roads were laid out be­fore the cars be­came pop­u­lar, re­sult­ing in roads that are nar­row and close to­gether.

How­ever, there has been crit­i­cism that even a com­pact city like Ge­orge Town now has too much traf­fic to be truly la­belled as pedes­trian-friendly.

Many point to Kuch­ing as be­ing a good ex­am­ple for pedes­tri­ans. yet, once you go out of the town cen­tre, build­ings be­come widely spaced out and are punc­tu­ated by prob­a­bly the largest round­abouts I have ever seen.

I guess there is plenty of space to walk on, but not much go­ing on in be­tween.

Is any­body do­ing some­thing about it? At least in KL, yes.

The Greater KL/Klang Val­ley Na­tional Key Eco­nomic Area (NKEA) un­der the Eco­nomic Trans­for­ma­tion Plan (ETP) has iden­ti­fied the need to “cre­ate a com­pre­hen­sive pedes­trian net­work”.

This calls for link­ing pedes­trian walk­ways with the pub­lic trans­port sys­tem, and it stretches from De­wan Ba­hasa, east to Am­pang Park, west to Lake Gar­dens, and as far north as the Gen­eral Hospi­tal.

In prin­ci­ple, you should be able to walk any­where in KL within this boundary us­ing a sys­tem of cov­ered sky­walks, but in prac­tice, I hardly see any­body us­ing them. Why is that?

It may be be­cause a pedes­trian-friendly city is not just about walk­ways and side­walks.

What is most im­por­tant is to have worth­while des­ti­na­tions within easy walk­ing dis­tance ac­cord­ing to the “Pedes­trian and Tran­sit-Friendly De­sign” hosted on the US En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency’s (EPA) Ur­ban and Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Di­vi­sion.

The site also has dis­cus­sion on how there needs to be a good mix of dif­fer­ent types of land use to cre­ate a va­ri­ety of des­ti­na­tions, as well as a junc­tions close enough for users to choose the route that best suits them.

It is for these rea­sons that I find my neigh­bour­hood so walk­a­ble.

Places I want to go to are within walk­ing dis­tance, and I don’t have to de­tour too much to get there.

The best side­walks in the world will not be used if they lead nowhere you want to go.

How does this com­pare with what is cur­rently be­ing built in KL? I think the jury is still out.

I would imag­ine there would be plenty of foot traf­fic to and from KLCC, but other than that, I think most people would only use the walk­ways if they were the most di­rect route to an LRT or mono­rail sta­tion.

But I feel there is a lost op­por­tu­nity here. So much em­pha­sis is on cen­tral KL, when I think it’s the sub­urbs which would ben­e­fit most from a walk­ing cul­ture. In par­tic­u­lar, if you live in one of those new­fan­gled up­mar­ket “com­mu­ni­ties”, then your home is just a tran­sit stop for your car, rather than an area you live in.

The ben­e­fits of trav­el­ling dis­tances in a car are slowly be­ing eroded by the dis­ad­van­tages of pol­lu­tion, traf­fic and cost of fuel. you would think you would want to max­imise people’s abil­ity to walk or cy­cle to where they want to go, be it to shop, play – or eat nasi lemak.

Logic is the an­tithe­sis of emo­tion but math­e­ma­ti­cian-turned-scriptwriter Dzof Azmi’s the­ory is that people need to make sense of both life’s va­garies and con­tra­dic­tions. Speak to him at star2@thes­tar.com.my.

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