Urbanites seem to have accepted the fact that living in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya simply means there is no way to avoid traffic jams.
A long list of reasons is given for the gridlock, among them high density, rapid development and high car ownership, all compounded by the massive MRT and LRT construction that has narrowed the roadways.
But even before the rail projects came into the picture, there may have been an intrinsic problem in our road systems that should have been prevented at the design stage. A general look at the congestion areas in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya and a check with motorists frequenting these roads point to one thing in common — bottlenecks.
Some are even blame highways and expressways for the bottleneck problem as they channel extra traffic to roads that are unable to take the additional volume.
Furious and frustrated
Subang Jaya resident Elizabeth Chong, 33, bears the daily crawl at the Kewajipan Roundabout, which is often clogged up especially for traffic from Sunway heading towards USJ due to merging lanes.
“This is extremely frustrating for motorists like me because I do not see a way out of it. People still go through it anyway because they do not have a choice. Like me, it is the only direct way to get to work,” she said.
Ampang resident Natasha Lin, 36, shares similar sentiments.
“Bottlenecks are the bane of Ampang folk because there are several in the area and all of them along main roads that most motorists cannot avoid. The worst part is knowing that it cannot be fixed due to physical constraints,” she said.
“As a layman looking at the
situation, I feel that there is lack of proper planning and integration of these roads and highways,” she added.
Motorist Prakash Pillay pointed out that in the city centre of Kuala Lumpur, traffic was often stuck at the stretch between Jalan Ampang and Jalan Yap Kwan Seng as four lanes merged into one lane heading to Petaling Jaya.
Day in and day out, these bottlenecks cause motorists’ tempers to fray.
With more highways being built and in the pipeline, one cannot help but have the view that the authorities are only building even more bottlenecks that compound the daily traffic crawl.
Traffic consultant Goh Bok Yen highlighted three design flaws that could lead to the creation of bottlenecks.
The first design problem is lane balancing, where the receiving lanes are not in balance with the incoming lanes, forcing motorists
to inch their way into a smaller road.
An example he gave was the junction in front of Flamingo Hotel in Ampang where traffic from Middle Ring Road (MRR) 2, Akleh and Ampang converge at one point from a total of six lanes.
Similarly, at the East–West Link Expressway (Salak Expressway) leading into Federal Highway near Mid Valley Megamall, traffic from four lanes is squeezed into two lanes.
“Cases like these show the design problem in dispersal and such a situation has to be compensated with a long merging distance, but there’s insufficient space to do so.
“This is common in urban areas, and the problem is compounded by motorists weaving through the traffic,” Goh said.
An example of the other design fault — short merging distance where the major roads connect — is the connecting point of Kesas Highway and Damansara-Puchong Expressway (LDP) in Puchong.
According to Goh, the third common design mistake is bad sight distance — the length of roadway ahead that is visible to the driver. He cited the MRR2-DUKE intersection near Taman Sri Ukay as an example.
The most critical, he said, was the intersection in front the US Embassy where all three flaws combined. The lanes are not in balance, it is a short merging distance of 100m involving six lanes and, on top of it all, traffic from the tunnel has to slow down before merging into traffic on both sides.
“All these design faults can be prevented. One can argue that there are physical constraints in urban areas, if that’s the case the road builders should compensate it with a good design or look for a more suitable landing location,” Goh said.
Goh said the locations of bottlenecks were usually grey areas, which none of the many agencies involved wanted to claim ownership.
“Concessionaires would usually step in only when traffic backs up and blocks access to their expressways.
“Local authorities should assess the volume of vehicles from the expressways pouring into their areas before giving approval, but they cannot do much about it after the fact,” he said.
Ironically, the many agencies involved in the country’s road system have resulted in uncoordinated designs. For example, traffic from Shah Alam on the Federal Highway cannot turn into Glenmarie directly but has to take a 2.5km route through Subang Jaya to do so. And if they want to use the New Pantai Expressway (NPE), they have to also go through the perennially congested Subang Jaya.
“In this case, the Shah Alam City Council and the Subang Jaya Municipal Council have to work with PLUS and NPE to find a solution, but who will take the initiative?” queried Goh.
“In Malaysia, we traditionally solve traffic problems like firefighters, instead of looking at macro, long-term planning. This is worsened by having too many agencies that so far have not been coordinating effectively,” he said.
In Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya, many expressway landings
are technically substandard and need effective signage to guide motorists. Unfortunately, the signs are too complicated and placed at improper locations, requiring motorists to slow down to figure out the way.
Of course, Goh said, not all bottlenecks were design faults but were caused by increased population. Schools and busy commercial areas located along main roads make matters worse, while the bad road culture of Malaysian drivers and loose enforcement do not help.
Nevertheless, Goh feels that expressways should be designed in a way that is flexible enough to accommodate traffic management measures, like the case of Sprint Highway turning into Mont Kiara, where a bottleneck was alleviated.
“I do not believe that bottlenecks are unsolvable. The relevant authorities and highway concessionaires should review the roads periodically, and they can do some ‘surgical’ work to rectify problems that crop up,” he said.