Penang: Pedestrians completely neglected?

TRANSIT took note of this article in the Star newspaper discussing the impact of automobile-centred planning in Penang and the effect on pedestrians. The irony is that much of Georgetown was planned to a pedestrian scale, with narrow streets and low-rise houses.

Pedestrians in Penang are ‘completely neglected’, says urban planning expert (The Star)

Monday March 22, 2010
ANDREA FILMER

WITH “crazy Penang drivers” being more than a common term, travelling on foot in George Town may be something of a hazard.

One may be surprised to know, however, that most main roads in the state’s capital have at least one zebra crossing with the majority of them in good condition.

A check at some 12 zebra crossings around the state’s administrative base of Komtar saw large numbers of both pedestrians and jaywalkers making their way around the city centre.

Among the busiest crossings were on Penang Road, Magazine Road and Jalan Ria where jaywalking is almost impossible due to the volume of traffic.

The zebra crossing outside George Town’s High Courts is one of the most used and well maintained - Image courtesy of The Star

All four crossings located on these roads (Penang Road has two) are set on timers and one on Penang Road claims the honour of having the only traditional black-and-white stripped path among all zebra crossings around Komtar. All the other crossings are marked by white lines across the road.

Jaywalkers were abundant at the complex spider web of junctions, zebra crossings and traffic lights just outside Gama Supermarket and Departmental Store as the area sees the meeting of five different roads — Penang Road, Magazine Road, Macalister Road, Datuk Keramat Road and Jalan Gurdwara.

All zebra crossings there are timed as well and long intervals or waiting (at some crossings, up to 97 seconds) caused impatient walkers to scurry across the roads against the lights.

Four-lane Jalan Dr Lim Chwee Leong also saw a large number of jaywalkers, possibly because of the long stretch between the famous three-street overhead bridge (across Jalan Dr Lim Chwee Leong, Penang Road and Burma Road) and a quiet zebra crossing at the street’s other end that joins Lebuh Lintang.

“Most of the walkers just want to cross to Jalan Ria as they are heading to either Prangin Mall or Komtar.

“The road is so wide, it will take more than twice as long if we use the overhead bridge,” said clerk Marianne Lim, 32, who was seen running across the busy street.

Further from the town centre, the zebra crossings on Light Street at the foot of George Town’s High Courts and another bridging Upper Penang Road to E&O Hotel on Farquhar Street are both well maintained and among the most aesthetically pleasing.

Meanwhile, a quiet but convenient zebra crossing at Carnarvon Street is probably in the most need of a refurbishment as both the display and button are missing on the panel (on the Jalan Cheong Fatt Tze side) and peeling paint on the poles as well as the faded white lines on the road gives the whole crossing a look of disrepair.

At the crossing on the Jalan Cheong Fatt Tze side of the Carnarvon Road zebra crossing, both the display and crossing activator are missing - Image courtesy of The Star

Also in need of repair is one crossing on Burma Road that is out of order while the display on a Beach Street zebra crossing (near the Lebuh Union) flashes random numbers at irregular intervals.

Urban planning authority Dr Goh Ban Lee said pedestrians in Penang were “completely neglected” with the traffic situation much in the favour of cars and vehicles.

“Five-foot ways and walkways have been completely overrun by parked cars and motorcycles, hawker stalls, dustbins and all kinds of other things. The local municipal council should take action to keep the walkways unobstructed for pedestrians.”

He, however, added that building more zebra crossings was not the way to improve the plight of walkers.

“Some people don’t even follow the traffic lights let alone stop for zebra crossings. Although a few more are needed here and there, building a lot is not the answer, and the state must make sure that what we have works well.

When contacted, Penang Local Government and Traffic Manage-ment Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said zebra crossings would be part of the Penang transport master plan under mobility and accessibility.

TRANSIT Says:

What an interesting article! TRANSIT knows, from having visited Penang, that it is the among the most pedestrian-friendly in terms of the original design of the streetscape.

However, efforts to smooth and increase the ‘flow’ of traffic (rather than reduce the volume) have done a great deal of damage to inner-city Penang and other pedestrian friendly communities.

While the government can be congratulated for making pedestrian-friendly planning an important part of the Penang master plan, it remains to be seen how effective their plans will be in the face of the demand for more auto-centred roads.

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