Can we live in a country where we can walk to places, rather than driving and increasing the traffic and pollution? Yes, but town planning for pedestrians needs to be improved.
LOOKING at my body shape, you may not believe that I do occasionally exercise. I get up at dawn and walk for about half an hour in total, mapping a circuitous route around the area where I live.
How do I get the motivation? Half way through, I stop for a nasi lemak and teh tarik.
Of course, you may argue that taking a break to eat (nourishment, I say!) defeats the purpose of walking in the first place, but I will counter that if that shop was not within walking distance – and it serves very good nasi lemak – then I would not be walking in the first place!
Apart from shops that sell good food, I am also able to walk to the following: a wet market, three supermarkets, a cinema, a hospital, three clinics, at least ten banks, two bookshops and three playgrounds.
In the next few years, there will also be an MRT station, together with hopefully an improved feeder bus network. If I cycle, the reach stretches further to four shopping malls and jungle trekking.
True, I still have to drive for meetings, family and friends, but all my daily errands are only a thousand footsteps and a bit away.
It sounds like my neighbourhood is a pedestrian-friendly haven, but you wouldn’t know it by looking around.
It’s not true to say the sidewalks are in poor condition, more that they don’t exist in the first place.
Getting anywhere worth going is dependant on the few overhead bridges crossing highways which are neither wheelchair nor pram-friendly.
The story feels quite similar around most of Kuala Lumpur. If you Google “Kuala Lumpur pedestrian friendly” you will find blog posts on the matter by backpackers who have visited Malaysia. They complain that the city is “confusing and difficult to navigate” and that “KL merits an entirely new category: pedestrian impossible”. One tried to walk to the national museum from KL Sentral and gave up to take a taxi.
(Obviously, he didn’t try hard enough, because Google Maps gives two suggestions for pedestrians: one is to cross four lanes in front of the Jalan Travers police station and then cross an on-ramp and an off-ramp to the front of the museum; the other is to go along the on ramp to Jalan Damansara and walk beside six lanes of traffic, presumably on that patch of tarmac reserved for emergency stops.)
Arguably, there are very few Malaysian cities that are truly pedestrian friendly. The most successful are those whose roads were laid out before the cars became popular, resulting in roads that are narrow and close together.
However, there has been criticism that even a compact city like George Town now has too much traffic to be truly labelled as pedestrian-friendly.
Many point to Kuching as being a good example for pedestrians. Yet, once you go out of the town centre, buildings become widely spaced out and are punctuated by probably the largest roundabouts I have ever seen.
I guess there is plenty of space to walk on, but not much going on in between.
Is anybody doing something about it? At least in KL, yes.
The Greater KL/Klang Valley National Key Economic Area (NKEA) under the Economic Transformation Plan (ETP) has identified the need to “create a comprehensive pedestrian network”.
This calls for linking pedestrian walkways with the public transport system, and it stretches from Dewan Bahasa, east to Ampang Park, west to Lake Gardens, and as far north as the General Hospital.
In principle, you should be able to walk anywhere in KL within this boundary using a system of covered skywalks, but in practice, I hardly see anybody using them. Why is that?
It may be because a pedestrian-friendly city is not just about walkways and sidewalks.
What is most important is to have worthwhile destinations within easy walking distance according to the “Pedestrian and Transit-Friendly Design” hosted on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Urban and Economic Development Division.
The site also has discussion on how there needs to be a good mix of different types of land use to create a variety of destinations, as well as a junctions close enough for users to choose the route that best suits them.
It is for these reasons that I find my neighbourhood so walkable.
Places I want to go to are within walking distance, and I don’t have to detour too much to get there.
The best sidewalks in the world will not be used if they lead nowhere you want to go.
How does this compare with what is currently being built in KL? I think the jury is still out.
I would imagine there would be plenty of foot traffic to and from KLCC, but other than that, I think most people would only use the walkways if they were the most direct route to an LRT or monorail station.
But I feel there is a lost opportunity here. So much emphasis is on central KL, when I think it’s the suburbs which would benefit most from a walking culture. In particular, if you live in one of those newfangled upmarket “communities”, then your home is just a transit stop for your car, rather than an area you live in.
The benefits of travelling distances in a car are slowly being eroded by the disadvantages of pollution, traffic and cost of fuel. You would think you would want to maximise people’s ability to walk or cycle to where they want to go, be it to shop, play – or eat nasi lemak.
- Logic is the antithesis of emotion but mathematician-turned-scriptwriter Dzof Azmi’s theory is that people need to make sense of both life’s vagaries and contradictions. Speak to him at email@example.com.
- The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.