Let us restore KL into the walkable city it once was (Update #2)

  • Updated with more information on no-car zones for Penang!
  • Updated with a letter describing the situation in Seremban!

Today’s The Star reported that 23 pedestrian bridges in Kuala Lumpur have been declared unsafe.

TRANSIT shares the disappointment of the public with respect to these bridges which clearly do not meet the safety standards of the police.

Even worse, members of TRANSIT and passengers have reported of incidents on these bridges, and there have been numerous media reports of robberies, assaults, and even murders on these unsafe bridges.

One really has to wonder how things got this way. The probable cause is simple – build ‘infrastructure’ as an ad hoc solution, plaster it with advertising or let a private company manage it so it can ‘pay for itself’, and then, just forget about it.

KL cops declare 23 pedestrian bridges ‘unsafe (The Star)
24 January 2011

KUALA LUMPUR: Twenty-three pedestrian bridges and a busy walkway in the city have been declared unsafe by the police.

City police has come out with a list detailing the bridges which need attention – mainly for lack of lighting and visibility which were ideal for crime.

This has stung the Kuala Lumpur City Hall into action, with the local authority saying the bridges will be repaired or upgraded within two weeks.

[TRANSIT Says: We wonder will the same urgency be considered to areas where pedestrian bridges are really necessary, especially on high speed motorways all around Klang Valley – after months of slow action following the brutal murder case in Sunway]

Federal Territories Gerakan anti-crime and public safety bureau chief Lim Teck Ang, who disclosed this, said advertisement boards fixed to the bridges would be removed as they were blocking users’ view.

“Lights will also be replaced or installed to ensure the bridges are well lit at all times,” he added.

Lim, who had highlighted the problem to city police, said the roof of several bridges were too low.

“City Hall will replace them to allow more lighting and visibility,’’ he added.

“Eleven of the bridges were deemed too dark, seven were covered by advertisement boards and trees with the rest not well-maintained,” he added.

The bridges included those in Jalan Pahang, Jalan Genting Klang, Jalan Gombak (Off Jalan Chong Hwa and Batu 5), Jalan Ipoh, MRR2, Abdullah Hukum, Jalan Pantai Baru and Bangsar.

It would be great if Bus Rapid Transit with at grade crossings can be implemented on these 3 arterial corridors linking KL's CBD to KL's northeastern suburbs. (Transantiago pix)

[TRANSIT Says: We prefer the bridges at Jln Pahang, Jln Genting Klang and Jln Gombak to be dismantled and replaced with at-grade zebra crossings.

Transit-Adjacent Development should be encouraged along the corridors. Car drivers heading from KL to Gombak, Ulu Kelang and Setapak already have the option to hit 100km/hr on the DUKE highway]

The walkway identified was the one linking KL Sentral to the Brickfields monorail station.

Lim said frequent complaints were received from commuters using bridges near eight LRT stations.

TRANSIT Says:

While TRANSIT is happy on the acknowledgment by the city council, we hope the city council will snap out of their ‘roads for cars and bridges for the pedestrians’ mentality and look into existing pedestrian barriers to walking. Take a look at our past comments on how the City Hall should change its mindset towards making downtown KL a walkable city.

In the SMURT-KL Study* commissioned in 1999 by the then Federal Territory Development and Klang Valley Planning Division of the Prime Minister’s Department (Volume I, Chapter 3, Page 34), it was briefly mentioned that…

… Pedestrians … [are] … irritated at major intersections when they have to wait for a long time to cross the road in a bad environment … filled with heavy vehicle exhaust and noise.

(* SMURT-KL is one of the two studies conducted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in late 1980s and 1990s. The most recent Klang Valley traffic study, commissioned by PEMANDU, was conducted in the second half of 2010, and is expected to be released early this year, we hope)

We regret that out of the very thick volumes of outcome of the most up-to-date and available (which was accurate as of February 1999… yeah, we are that bad!) traffic study in Klang Valley (we wonder what happened to the rest of the country), only very few paragraphs were dedicated on pedestrian-friendly traffic designs. However, it is worthwhile to note the following findings:

… They (the pedestrians) cross the streets by ignoring the signal lights. They might wander into vehicle lanes to shorten their journey, while at bus stops, pedestrians and passengers overflow onto the vehicle lanes.

TRANSIT Says:
We do not need a rocket scientist (or civil engineer) to tell us that looking for short cut is a natural human behavior. We travel from one point to another simply because the benefit of arriving to the point of destination (i.e. work errands, house chores, chilling with buddies) outweighs its costs (i.e. stress, energy consumed, probability of being knocked by mopeds or struck by knife-wielding muggers), and how we travel depends on the less costly choice that we have.

For arterial roads with considerable urban activities such as Jalan Genting Klang and Jalan Gombak, emphasis on building one extra lanes for cars (which eats up pedestrian sidewalk area on both sides) and pedestrian bridges will only worsen the congestion, due to less number of commuters who want to walk to ride the bus, more drivers on the road competing for the scarcer spaces and more slower and abrupt car turning movements into branching local access roads where retail lots are located.

If we choose to go down with this “space-is-for-cars-not-people” mindset for our congested arterials (especially in areas where high speed traffic dangerously interweaves with slow moving cars), we may end up with the ugly situation depicted in the video below:

Trams on lawn track in Madrid. Note the at grade pedestrian crossings. Let us call on the City Hall to have transit-adjacent development along the present congested corridors of Jalan Genting Klang and the likes of it, and say no to pedestrian bridges and extra lanes for cars at the expense of sidewalks.

In places where high density urban environment (read: vibrant people-based activity) is expected to dominate, pedestrian bridges are nuisances, full stop. At grade zebra crossings with signal priorities for both transit vehicles and pedestrians (rather than cars and mopeds) should be made mandatory in downtown KL.

Which do you prefer, at grade crossing at mid-block without proper traffic control devices as shown by the video taken in Saigon below…

Or at junction with proper signals and wide pathways as shown by the video taken in Tokyo.

For clearer picture, once can ponder on the following analytical information from Walkable Dallas-Fort Worth blog site:

Intersection Density and Convergence Factor

Higher the car-pedestrian conflict means lower walkability scores, and lower transit use. (carfreeinbigd.com)
Democratic grid road layout with minimal convergence between pedestrian and car traffic promotes walkability in Portland, USA. The bigger circles of red denotes problematic areas where wide boulevards with long 4-way signals and highway ramps hamper pedestrian convenience. (carfreeinbigd.com)

Off-ramps, merges, and interchanges – while they may deliver people, the form is often anti-urban, disconnected, and hostile to pedestrian connectivity, the neural network of a City. I might liken it to rain water runoff where a natural system slowly filters, absorbs, and releases rainwater into groundwater or bodies of water. But where there is a lot of impervious surfaces, ie roads and parking lots, water is collected and channeled directly into a body of water, typically far more than the ecosystem can handle. The result is vast amounts of erosion and a damaged ecosystem. This is the same for cities when the delivery mechanisms of people to place are too intense. Off-ramps, without being tempered through design, pollute the cities fabric…

Perhaps we can learn a lesson from Curutiba on turning downtown streets into pedestrian-only streets:

<iframe id=”vimeo_player” src=”http://player.vimeo.com/video/12472279?js_api=1&amp;js_swf_id=vimeo_player&amp;title=0&amp;byline=0&amp;portrait=0&amp;color=9086c0&#8243; width=”560″ height=”315″ frameborder=”0″></iframe>

Take a look at what Medan Pasar, once the heart of KL, was 100, 50, and 1-2 years ago:

Photo belongs to ethaniel83 (http://s461.photobucket.com/home/ethaniel83).

And check out this letter describing the situation in Seremban:

Seremban’s pedestrian view of pedestrians (NST)
2011/01/28

SEREMBAN will be declared a city soon.

However, it must be highlighted that it will be a city where pedestrians are shortchanged and can use some help.

Jalan Dato Bandar Tunggal, for instance, is a one-way bustling four-lane thoroughfare where motorists beat the traffic lights at the town field 400m from the railway station.

This poses a challenge for pedestrians wanting to cross the road.

Old folk and the disabled in wheelchairs can forget about it.

Vehicles pour into this one-way street via Jalan Rahang, Jalan Rasah and Jalan Yam Tuan.

Pedestrians coming from the Terminal One central bus station, Tenaga Nasional Bhd, Courts Mammoth and Socso buildings have to cross this road to get to the Seremban Municipal Council, State Secretariat and shopping mall on the other side.

They dice with death daily as there is no overhead pedestrian crossing or traffic light in between the two points to allow them to cross.

Many accidents have occurred here; the latest involved a schoolgirl who escaped with knocks and bruises.

It has been reported that 80 per cent of fatal collisions occur to pedestrians crossing roads.

The availability of intersections, traffic lights and overhead bridges, as well as the ethics of road users, affect the safety of street crossings.

It cannot be over-emphasised that the safety and convenience of pedestrians is an ever-compelling factor in our quality of life.

Residents have voiced their concerns to members of parliament about setting up traffic lights in between the railway station and the next stop at the junction to Jalan Sungei Ujong, or alternatively an overhead bridge, but to no avail.

The council gives the lame excuse that 400m is too close a distance to be interrupted by an traffic light. It forgets that at the temple in Jalan Yam Tuan, there are two traffic lights at a distance of only 30m.

We must promote a vibrant pedestrian environment as an enduring culture for future generations.

DR A. SOORIAN
Seremban, Negri Sembilan

We can take heart though – one local government in Malaysia is planning to introduce more pedestrian-friendly zones after the success of their trial project. That place is (not surprisingly), Georgetown, Penang.

More no-car zones (The Star)
Monday January 24, 2011

No Sunday drive: Barricades to prevent motorists from entering Jalan Tun Syed Barakbah near the Esplanade in George Town from 8am to 5pm on Sunday. Image courtesy of The Star.

THE Penang Municipal Council is now looking at introducing more areas under the proposed “no-car zone” within the heritage enclave.

This is following the success of a recent trial run at the Esplanade.

The council’s Infrastructure and Transport committee alternate chairman Ramlah Bee Asiahoo when contacted, said the trial run at Jalan Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah, which was introduced three Sundays ago between 8am and 5pm had received positive feedback from the public.

“Families, tourists and the senior citizens visiting the area were happy with the campaign since they were able to walk around freely and take in the fresh air since there was no high level emission of carbon monoxide.

“Tourists had also commented that they could explore the heritage enclave better by riding on trishaws to admire the scenery of places such as Fort Cornwallis,” she said recently.

She said the proposed move was also introduced as part of the state’s ‘Cleaner, Greener’ campaign initiative.

Ramlah said the committee would hold a meeting today to discuss and study the results of the trial run and whether to expand the campaign to restrict the movement of cars to other areas within the enclave.

Last October, state Youth, Sports, Women, Family and Community Development Committee chairman Lydia Ong Kok Fooi suggested the idea of banning vehicles from certain roads in the heritage enclave.

She informed council president Patahiyah Ismail about it in August.

She had also said that Singapore, (Jakarta) Indonesia, Paris and London already had such a policy in place, and Penang would be the first in the country if the state could adopt such a policy.

Blogger Anil Netto has also suggested that plans for no-car zones be integrated with improved public transport service, as well as the proposed Georgetown inner-city tram service.

The Georgetown inner-city tram proposal from Ric Francis.

Click here for a larger version of the image above.

TRANSIT Says:

What are your thoughts on creating a pedestrian-friendly urban environment in Malaysia? Please share your ideas and comments in the space below!

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16 thoughts on “Let us restore KL into the walkable city it once was (Update #2)”

  1. With nowdays global warming and our all year round a bit extremely hot and humid weather??? You must be kidding. I wish you all the best!!!

  2. In Copenhagen and Montreal people can get frost bites easily during Winter, but they do cycle on the street with all the slush and sleet.

    With the presence of safe sidewalks and shades (and better public transport) walking your way to the office should not be that horrible, considering the milder temperatures during morning (26C) and evening peak hours (30C).

    If we think we all deserve to commute to our office’s doorbell within our climate-controlled green-house-gas emitting individual rapid movers, then we will keep spiraling into a vicious cycle of more and more space for cars… and less and less space for people… and turn KL into a horrible place to live, work and play.

    TRANSIT calls for a more sustainable way to solve our urban congestion problems, and wishes all the best for our children and grandchildren.

    Zul for TRANSIT

  3. I have posted about this before, referring to Calgary as an example – for us heavy rain, thunderstorms and puddles make walking next to roads unpleasant, so where we have roads with cars we should opt for raised walkways (bright, wide and airy walkways – maybe even put in a small police beat base so they can monitor streets from a raised position?). Now if we decide to make some streets no drive zones then at grade solutions will be nice eg bukit bintang. Hong Kong’s raised walkways are much nicer to walk through when it’s raining and everyone has to try and avoid hitting each other with their umbrellas!

    1. Hi Adrian

      Thanks for the feedback. Elevated walkways would certainly work in some high density situations – the central business district, for example – but not all cities have walkways even in their most dense areas.

      Hong Kong has fewer km of elevated walkways than one might think and they are only to connect the bank & office towers to the MTR and Central and Wan Chai ferry docks – in other words, the walkways are on a very specific part of Hong Kong Island, serving a very specific function (moving thousands of office workers) that the sidewalks cannot handle completely.

      Singapore, which certainly gets as much rain and humidity as KL (if not more) has made use of underground walkways to move people in comfort, but they also have the wider sidewalks and shade trees.

      KL can certainly introduce underground walkways (and it is part of the plan) but sidewalks should be made wider and shaded wherever possible.

      Our point is that elevated walkways and overhead bridges have been introduced ad hoc and the results have not always been good for pedestrians or for the appearance of KL. Look at the area around Pasar Seni as an example (including the new walkway from the LRT station).

      A well-planned system of walkways in certain areas of KL is welcomed, but wider sidewalks and more shade (and fewer cars) is better for our urban environment.

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  4. Being just returned from an European city not long back, I am very impressed with their pedestrian crossings.

    What mentioned above in the article is definitely true. It is human’s nature to choose the shortest, least time and energy consuming pathway, even risking their lives to cross a busy road.

    A very classic example would be Jalan Raja Chulan/Jalan Sultan Ismail junction. Despite a pedestrian bridge, fitted with escalators is built, pedestrians from the junction do not walk down the street and use the pedestrian, but instead crossing the road haphazardly.

    I suggest that the city hall should put more emphasis on building at grade pedestrian crossings, with proper lightings and signages to inform motorists that they are driving through a pedestrian crossing.

    I have encountered numerous attempts to cross a pedestrian crossing when the pedestrian traffic light isn’t functioning. I was standing at the holding area, hoping a car will stop to allow me to cross the street. I had to wait for quite some time before the traffic eases up. In comparison, while I was making a crossing in European city, motorists will stop to allow pedestrians to cross the street, confidently.

    I suggest laws to be also be enacted to prioritize pedestrian traffic rather than motorized traffic.

  5. Walkways are a double-edged sword. Singapore’s CityLink underground walkway between City Hall and Suntec City has made the streets above sterile. Apart from fast moving cars, they are only ventured by tourists. Instead of views of the Raffles Hotel, the War Memorial and the city, what pedestrians now get are sale posters in an underground mall.

    1. A good point – although to be fair, the streets around Suntec City and east of City Hall are pretty sterile to begin with.

      For a very long time, CityLink was the only real pedestrian connection between City Hall and Suntec. Now some of that pedestrian traffic is being rerouted along the Esplanade and waterfront, which is much more appealing.

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  6. I’d actually like to see a nice wide walkway from KL Sentral to the Muzeum, then on to the Planetarium and the Islamic Arts Museum, maybe called the ‘Muzium Walk’, and a ‘pedestrian highway’ between KLCC AND Bukit Bintang. The one from the convention center going to impiana looks like a start…

    1. @Adrian

      Thanks for the feedback. The ‘Muzium Walk’ sounds like a great idea and would be very welcome – especially since accessing the Muzium is a scary experience and one of the worst examples of “you can’t get there from here” that can be found in KL.

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  7. That’s true. What I was inferring — but not stating — is that a focus on the underground walkway had resulted in a neglect of above-ground space in that corridor. The Esplanade detour may offer a better walk for tourists but office workers would care less on their daily run and choose the shortest route.

  8. Thanks for reminding me how walkable KL used to be. Back in the 60s, my sister and I walked to school everyday, from our home in Jalan Dato Onn to Batu Road Girls School on Jalan Raja Laut. Walking by the shophouses on Batu/TAR Road was very enjoyable. We saw Jalan Kuching being built and even when the road was completed, we could still cross it safely because traffic was remarkably light by our standards today. I can’t imagine doing that same walk today.

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