Plan to ease Penang traffic woes

Posted on December 1, 2010. Filed under: Environment and Livelihoods |

-The Sun-

THERE was an important development, which went largely unnoticed amid the din of political intrigues in the Penang state assembly, that locals have long been clamouring for. The state government, it was announced, will finally begin a study this month to formulate its long-awaited Public Transport Master Plan, in a bid to resolve worsening traffic congestion.

Many quarters have felt that transport, a crucial component in the state’s administration, has been by and large neglected by the authorities. NGOs have asked that plans for mega-projects, including the 2nd Penang Bridge, the monorail and the Penang Outer Ring Road be halted until a transport master plan is done. Two years ago, a coalition of 12 NGOs had submitted a letter to the chief minister expressing concern over his statements that the state would sign agreements with federal authorities to proceed with the projects.

The biggest concern is that the huge projects are being ushered in without taking into account the worsening traffic jams in the island. For example, the new bridge is likely to bring in even more vehicles into Penang’s congested roads, when investment should be made to upgrade public transport.

There are legitimate worries that this second bridge, which is being built because the current one (which was only recently widened to six lanes) would cause the traffic volume on the island to double what it is today.

“They are concerned about the choking up of the Penang Bridge. Aren’t they concerned about the choking up of the city?” activist Choong Sim Poey once said. “We must go through the process of drawing up a Transport Master Plan coordinated by a single state transport authority that all parties can agree to before investing millions into these projects.”

Not only are the projects said to be unsuitable or unsustainable for Penang; there is also a concern that the monorail and the second bridge seem to be proposed with a view to achieve large profits for well-connected national companies.

Building new roads, it is said, does not solve traffic problems. It just encourages more cars. So a major contention is also that the government should look into improving public transport to discourage use of private vehicles.

Interestingly, there has also been a move to reintroduce trams like what has been done in Hongkong, San Francisco, Paris and Adelaide. The movement stems from an increasingly popular notion that something like the monorail is far too costly and whose giant infrastructures would bring about adverse effects to the sensitive buildings, heritage streets and green landscape of Penang. As it is, trams were used in Penang until they were phased out some 50 years ago.

There have been other related developments too. The state is applying for an allocation from the federal government to upgrade the coastal highway on the eastern side of the island, which has been renamed Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway, under the 10th Malaysia Plan.

And the first phase of a “park and ride” system will also be launched in February in Seberang Perai, geared particularly to facilitate hundreds of workers who commute daily from the mainland to the Free Industrial Zone in Bayan Lepas. The second phase of the system is being planned on the island from April next year, in areas like Tanjung Tokong, Ayer Itam, Balik Pulau and Sungai Nibong.

And in another interesting development, the Penang Transport Council also raised the issue of illegal parking and illegal street hawkers as being among the causes of traffic jams in Penang.

So the issue of transport in a place such as Penang where population growths show no signs of slowing down is by no means a simple one. But with the ball finally set into motion, perhaps we can see some end to the woes people have long felt on an increasingly crowded island already afflicted due to its limited land space.

Himanshu is theSun’s Penang bureau chief. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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