Updated with articles on the Open Day!
TRANSIT is compiling materials related with yesterday’s SPAD Open Day on Sungai Buloh – Kajang MRT line at MidValley. As you can imagine, this will take some time so please check back to this post and the post on the MRT public display regularly.
More information & comments on the Open Day after the jump!
Click here for a larger version of the image above.
Our overall take is that we are happy the government offers chances from feedback from the general public, but we are not exactly happy to see many attempts and whitewashing (and greenwashing) through “fact-sheets” that are unhelpful in making the public to make a truly informed decision before endorsing or rejecting the project (which we know will ‘railroad’ ahead anyway).
Now, to be clear, the Railways Act 1991 (the Amendment in 2009 only related to replacing Department of Railways with SPAD) does not require the railway builder to provide anything except for a ‘railways scheme’, a list of landowners who will be affected, and some technical details.
This is an unfortunate weakness in our law that treats all railways the same – whether they are being built in the rural wilderness or the urban concrete jungle and it certainly needs to be changed.
Now, we at TRANSIT feel that the public needs to know what is planned between now till 2016, what study has been undertaken to tweak our current mobility infrastructure to move more people instead of cars such as our proposal on Expressway Rapid Transit that can be applied for present BET services especially in Sungai Buloh and Kota Damansara, and what happened to promises of five levers to improve public transport by 2012, especially on BRT/bus lane to Kajang as earlier revealed by PEMANDU in GTP’s NKRA for urban public transport.
The photos of the displays can be found here.
Articles on the Open Day are listed below:
- Commuters looking forward to smoother ride (NST)
- ‘Teh tarik’ talks on MRT route (NST);
- Sg Buloh-Kajang MRT lines on display (Malay Mail)
- LPTC will meet residents associations to hear their views and grouses (The Star);
Here are our core points on the ‘fact-sheets’ presented by SPAD yesterday:
1. Absence of plan to integrate land use and transportation planning
We have yet to figure out how to live and yet be able to move around (and vice versa)
Mass transit is no different from roads; they shape the way we work, live and play – and thus dictate on how we move around to meet those daily goals. We choose to let the way we work, live and play be shaped by roads more than by mass transit (of which we had none, before the inception of KTM Komuter in the mid-90s), and pay a heavy price for it: rampant urban sprawl that reinforce the necessity to move around by cars (and motorbikes).
We did nothing to reinforce the usage of our KL-bound roadways for the movement of people instead of cars, we totally ignore on investments in strengthening catchment potentials of existing KTM lines (and freight bypass), and we continue to erect high density buildings surrounded by car-oriented urban spaces. The results are:
- Congestion in and out of KL builds up as population increases along arterial motorways;
- New “low-density” terrace house developments with cul-de-sac road designs (biggest enemy to transit-friendly suburban layout) along those motorways;
- Concentration of growth in KL city center being shifted as new commercial and activity centers are pushed and scattered over cheaper lands on the outskirts;
- More highways were built to punch in housing estates landlocked by the already convoluted motorways so that people who can afford tolls get to the bottleneck points faster;
- Communities get physically divided with high speed infra that isolates low density spaces further apart (like LDP does to the populations around Kelana Jaya);
- Leftover fragmented land surfaces are filled with new high density flats, condos and even commercial centers;
- Finally we do not only have congestion in and out of KL, but at all multi-directional points across the Klang Valley;
That one BIG problem is not merely congestion. That one BIG problem is we never have a big picture on harmonizing the way we live and the way we move around. Congestion is the symptom of that bigger problem, public transport is a tool to solve the congestion problem, and MRT is one of various plethora of means that can be used to solve congestion.
But SPAD is presenting the congestion issue like this: We will grow 6 million t0 10 million in less than 10 years, cars are causing congestion, we want to get rid half of our cars on the road, other supercool cities with less congestion problems must have supercool trains (that our neighbor coincidentally coined as MRT), therefore, MRT is the answer!
Remember, the end does not justify the mean. The government should not apply short-term thinking (or Machiavellian politics) for something as long term and as far-reaching as transport.
2. Comparing rail km per capita with multi-context cities
This is like confusing dragonfruits with durians
Our rail length per capita is 19km/million population which is behind 40km average of Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York, London, and Singapore. With the completion of Prasarana’s LRT extension and MRT projects, the figure will boost up to 32. We wonder why ERL is being left out; the excellent, efficient infrastructure can serve areas south of Puchong and relieve KTM Komuter of the pressure of serving residents around Balakong/Seri Kembangan.
Try to reposition the encyclopedic statement into a more digestible bread and butter viewpoint – people catchment per stations (instead of ambiguous people for every km, as if everyone lives 400 meter next to the rail lines, and as if those same people can stop and board the train at any point along the rail lines). We will see that the financially sustaining urban rail projects in Hong Kong and Tokyo are due to concentrations of populations residing surrounding the rail stations. Urban planners call this palm-and-shape urban land use development, where populations live nearest to the transit nodes.
For our transit use share to jump up from 17% now to 50% in 2020, which Idris Jala himself mentioned as a reason for why we need MRT, we need to ask millions of bungalow, terrace and townhouse residents in Klang Valley to move from where they live now to ultra high rise places packed within 400m walking distance from the projected stations! The 6th Malaysia Plan says 50% transit modal share can be achieved by 2000 with completion of LRT. That did not happened – there was no sustainable effort to integrate land use and transportation planning – such as practiced in ‘Corridor Cities’ of Tokyo, Singapore and Hong Kong, and London and New York at a lesser degree.
Mixed high rise development allows population surrounding a particular MRT station to be higher than 7,000 people per hectare (ours not even passing 1,000 for many rail stations). Our density is way lower – why not experiment with Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) for areas surrounding stations of rapid bus lines that performs the same level of service one would expect from more capital-expensive LRT or MRT?
More than half of new property developments in the Greater KL are not even classified as ‘high density’. They are too spread out, at an even faster rate than potential high density TOD that supposedly take place for low density brownfield areas around our existing LRT stations (and we hear nothing so far on how SPAD’s SPV that supposed to finance the behemoth MRT project will not repeat the same PUTRA and STAR SPV failures)!
Nonetheless, the purchasing power for urbanites in those cities are much higher than the average Malaysians. Can we afford RM9 for one unsubsudized mass transit ride? From the federal perspective, all taxpayers from every state have every reason to object to this mammoth undertaking – past LRT and Monorail bailouts cost taxpayers billions. Including land acquisition, the MRT will cost 4-5x greater – and that’s only for a single line. With tens of billions splurged for one line, can we be assured that the spare change can still afford to connect people not only bound for KL city center, but for mobility needs along other inter-suburban arterials, and also for other urban dwellers outside KL?
SPAD should change the factsheet title into this: Comparison of Mass Rapid Transport with Developing (or Poorer) Countries. The fact is Columbia’s Bogota and Brazil’s Curutiba are way ahead of us – they used to be ‘Compact Cities’ before ended up being dispersed, sprawled and disorganized like KL, but with BRT and TOD surrounding BRT corridors, they managed to realign their urban mobility and land use pattern towards ‘Corridor Cities’ on par with Tokyo and Hong Kong (and better than New York and London). Why SPAD fails to mention this?
3. MRT is the answer to all problems, period.
Here are the “facts” presented on BRT during the open day:
- 8-car MRT (but on other display, only 4-carriages will be used!) can move 60,000 pax, whereas bi-articulated BRT can only move 16,200 pax (all numbers in pax per direction per hour)
ENTIRELY NOT TRUE – TRANSMILLENIO CARRIES MORE THAN 50,000 pax
- Capacity for MRT is touted as “Adequate capacity for long-term growth planning”, and “Target demand is at top end of capacity” for BRT.
ENTIRELY NOT TRUE – AMPLE ROAD SPACES IN GREATER KL HAVE ALREADY BEEN SECURED FOR ELEVATED MRT CONSTRUCTION FOOTPRINTS. HIGHWAYS HAVE BEEN IDENTIFIED FOR WIDENING. AND THERE IS NO SPACE TO BE FOUND FOR BRT?
- On feasibility, the MRT is made to sound as the most easiest to be implemented by saying “Tunnelling required in city centre”, whereas for BRT, a 10-lane highway is required, plus can’t work in downtown area!
ENTIRELY NOT TRUE. 10-LANE HIGHWAY? THIS IS ABSURD. BRT CAN WORK ON ROADS AS NARROW AS 3 LANES. HIGH CAPACITY BRT (WITH MORE THAN 20,000 PAX/DIRECTION/HR) ON EXCLUSIVE LANES EAT UP ONLY 2 MEDIAN LANES, AND ONLY ONE EXTRA PASSING LANE AT STATIONS, AND UNLIKE TRAINS, THEY CAN GO AS FREQUENT AS ONE BI-ARTICULATED (3-COACH) BUS EVERY 20 SECONDS!
- Easy conclusion by SPAD is, “BRT is not appropriate for direct access to city centre” and “MRT is the most suitable modal option for ridership, achieving modal shift and in view of constraints in city center”.
PARTIALLY UNTRUE – BRT WORKS IN DOWNTOWNS, ALBEIT AT SMALLER CAPACITIES, WITH TRAFFIC PRIORITY SIGNALS THAT PREEMPT GREEN LIGHT FOR BUSES. BUT EVEN IF IT IS PARTIALLY TRUE, WHAT’S THE ISSUE HERE?
Channeling and easy transfers allow BRT to operate under different capacity levels. Passengers on a Federal Highway BRT can transfer from Pasar Seni to LRT or to inner KL trams for example. Above photo from urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com.
As the audience went to further sets of displays, SPAD finally tried to say, well MRT is not everything and we will work on supporting systems, by displaying a display on “MRT is not the only public transport initiative”. On the display, a simple line saying “(SPAD is) studying on bus lanes and BRT”.
How can SPAD say confidently that ‘only MRT can work because BRT can’t work in Greater KL’, and then say, ‘oh, we have yet to start researching on its applicability for Greater KL’? Not to mention that there are issues about how people living in the suburban areas (especially the ones not served by MRT) will get to the MRT – which may have not been studied.
It is getting more and more clear that the MRT is a rush job, with an unrealistic July deadline, and SPAD and the public may suffer in the end.
Frankly, there are reasons why planning and building a rail network takes decades!
4. MRT for connecting new greenfields, but what about the brownfields
The identified new developments are Rubber Research Institute land in Sungai Buloh, Warisan Merdeka, Cochrane and KL International Financial District.
Warisan Merdeka’s identified location is a walking distance from Plaza Rakyat and Maharajalela rail stations just like KLCC is from KLCC station; since that area is still lower in density, let’s create a new series of pedestrian malls (covered, if DBKL likes) from the nearby stations, so people can enjoy the sight of the 100-storey tower as they walk towards it (and there will be lots of places for souvenirs and photos).
The MRT then can capture more ridership from the working populations along Jalan Raja Chulan, and hit Jalan Tun Perak & Masjid Jamek (where grid road layout pattern still prevails, connecting Chinatown to the south and Chow Kit on the north) with very huge high density urban renewal potential, before punching through Jalan Parlimen towards Pusat Bandar Damansara.
The strengthening of KL as the downtown core where activity centers gravitate, and of key regional centers as the suburban cores are both crucial for Greater KL to be a ‘Corridor City’.
We see that Sungai Buloh station is locked between PLUS’ trumpet interchange, low density enclaves and industrial buildings. How TOD can take place? Are there going to be access to rapid buses or trams on dedicated lanes that MRT users can hop on to reach the respective urban cores? How the routes will be designed? Will the MRT feeder design, such as the one proposed for Cheras and TTDI, be used, when typically loop bus service will not attract transit users due to long overall door-to-door journey time?
This is to reflect what is put in GTP under urban public transport – suburbanites are connected to urban activity centers through local transit services, and these activity centers are connected to KL’s CBD thru rapid transit forms (mass rapid transit modes are not confined to MRT [aptly described as mass rail transit] alone but also Komuter, BET/ERT, LRT, BRT).
Golf clubs are clear example of unproductive use of land, especially where there are scarce residential and commercial lands. Will the vast golf areas of Tropicana and KGPA be opened up for high density development? How the long term structural plans for low density housing area near the proposed stations will be affected?
5. MRT whitewashing through eye-popping numbers and figures
The project was said to produce RM21 billion annual Gross National Income due to construction over the next 10 years. Lessons from LRTs and Monorail say – how about Gross National Debt for a change?
Imagine if SPAD opted for 10 lines of BRT – there will be enough opportunities for everyone – operators, vendors, traffic signaling specialists, tire makers, engine maintenance specialists… we are not locked in to any particular proprietary technology that can burden us in the future in anticipation of further maintenance, network tweaking, capacity upgrade, service overhaul or technological revamp. There will be greater transparency and competition, and less under-the-table direct deals and concessions.
The project promises RM300 million gross development value – only properties that are within the 400m walking distance from the stations. Billions of real estate value can be lost due to congestion in areas further away from the stations, and tens of billions more for areas not served by any forms of rapid transit! On structure plans properties may look like they are within five minutes walk from any rail stations, but due to highways, ramps, private land plots, and other urban barriers, one has to travel by car to reach the stations.
TRANSIT’s comments will continue but right now, we need your feedback. Please comment in the space below and do not forget to send your comments to SPAD using their comment form, or through email email@example.com or phone 1800 82 6868