Transport plan must look beyond Greater KL

THE proposed alignment of MRT Line 2 was made public through what is supposed to be the Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA). In reality, it reads much more like a report on the contractor’s implementation methods.

Reading the DEIA at its face value suggests that, while there are some problems, most are of minor nuisance value that can be easily dealt with. However, the real truth of the matter is out there for the public to see and experience with the construction of MRT Line 1.

The public should not be apathetic in these matters and leave judgement of the effect of the scheme and its construction solely to a technical report, which has limited circulation and most do not understand.

People affected by Line 1 works should be given a forum through which they can pass on their experiences to the public, but more specifically to those communities which will be affected by the Line 2 proposals.

In this way, the whole design process stands to benefit, the public feels more involved and the eventual outcome should emerge as a piece of social planning, rather than an arbitrary engineering solution to providing public transit.

In general, prior to the official announcement of the MRT Line 2 alignment, the public were informed of the indicative corridor through public seminars, mainly given by property experts.

There were discussions with local authorities and their professional staff, but these tended to take the form of briefings, rather than a two-way exchange of input and local experience. Since these seminars, however, there have been some major amendments to the initial alignment and the transport design concept for the Line 2 route has changed.

Some of these alternative sections of MRT alignment, introduced at relatively short notice by the Government and MRT Corp in the process of decision making, mean that a number of communities, which would have been served by the initial proposals, now miss out or have to wait another 10 years for Line 3 to come. Many of these communities are of a population density and income level that would benefit from and support this new form of public transport.

Some of these alternatives have significantly impacted on the land use and socio-economic development of whole communities. The changes to the MRT 2 alignment that create such impacts are:

• The alternative re-alignment to Sungai Besi to facilitate HSR and Bandar 1 Malaysia rather than the eastern suburbs and the Pandan area;

• The eastern and western corridor in the Seri Kembangan area and its extension to Putrajaya; and

• Other minor amendments considered as localised issues, which do not have major significant impact on the macro design aspect but might have significant impact at a micro level on local users and land use.

The first impression of the published alignment given to me is that, while it links key nodal points, it is primarily a well-selected alignment to minimise engineering difficulties and costs.

However, some of these cost savings come at the expense of local communities and the environment. One cannot help thinking that had the town and regional planners had a real input to the project, the design might have been more sympathetic to the environment and better integrated into the urban fabric.

It is true that such an approach would probably cost more, but the retrospective rewards to the city design would more than make up for this.

The extension of the existing LRT and MRT lines well beyond the boundaries of Greater Kuala Lumpur is understandable and will bring good local accessibility to the areas served. What is unlikely, however, is that such extensions will become major commuter routes to the city centre.

The frequency of stops at stations and the time taken accelerating and decelerating will result in relatively slow average public transport journey speeds of around 30km/h. In comparison, road–based private transport will still enjoy higher average journey speeds in the comfort and relative safety of their own enclosed vehicle space.

The other problem with extending the existing public transport lines over distances beyond 20km is that the critical upstream section of the line approaching and within the city centre could become intolerably overloaded. This will emphasise the need for the Circle Line and bring into question the need for other routes and linkages.

In passing, while on the subject of public transit line extensions, the present proposals are mainly orientated towards the south to serve Putrajaya and Sepang. They do not seem to take into account the Sungai Buloh/Federal Route 54 corridor where tens of thousands of acres are being converted into major townships such as Saujana Utama, Elmina West, Bandar Seri Coalfield and the Bukit Darah area.

The adoption of Line 1 and the proposal for Line 2 illustrated some weaknesses in the collection of future land-use development proposals and in understanding of various local authorities’ development data.

This could result in the MRT Line 2 alignment not picking up and serving major core developments. In addition, the relevant local authorities are unable to interact prior to selection of the proposed alignments. It is obvious that the data exchange to determine the optimum alignment during the initial corridor establishment is extremely important.

Unfortunately, this data and information seem to be absent in the early stages of the process.

In order to evaluate the MRT Line 2 from a proper macro and community perspective, it is imperative that the local authorities and the state government work hand-in-hand in carrying out in-depth evaluations of the wider effects of the proposals.

Unfortunately, this does not seem to be happening at the intensity and depth of study required. A clear example of what is needed is in the case of the MRT Line 2 realignment to Bandar Malaysia out of the eastern Kuala Lumpur suburbs. Such a change needs the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council (MPAJ) to actively look into contingency public transport plans for the Pandan area.

Similarly, the Subang Jaya Municipal Council must assess the MRT engineering alignment proposals through Seri Kembangan from the point of view of a local government development strategy and local plan so as to provide the necessary feedback to the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) and MRT Corp.

Ultimately, it is local government that has the greatest responsibility in deciding the detailed alignment of public transport to serve areas in its jurisdiction. It has the most comprehensive up-to-date database and the best local planning knowledge that could assist SPAD and MRT Corp in determining optimum track alignment and urban planning solution.

Mega investments of this nature in public transport should be aimed at benefiting the nation and its capital city in the long-term with good urban design and planning input, rather than hoping to achieve a rapid short-term expedient solution to a growing transport problem that has been apparent for years.

The need for active participation of planners, economists, engineers and the combined effort of the public and private sector is vital.

Currently calling for retrospective objections to an engineering design is not the best way to proceed. The direct contribution of communities, authorities and experts as well as input from the public is vital and much needed.

When it comes to dealing with objections to the current proposals, it is likely that the general public or relevant authorities might only express their concerns for the areas which are directly impacted by the proposed MRT alignment or stations.

In my opinion, major transport facilities of this nature will not only impact the future physical development of the city but also have a bearing on the lifestyle of the citizens, regardless whether they are staying along the alignment or elsewhere in the metropolitan area of Klang Valley.

Therefore, it is not wrong that the fundamental question posed for public transport planning should be looking beyond the Greater Kuala Lumpur area.

> Goh is an urban land-use/transportation planner. He had worked for an international firm in the United Kingdom before returning to Malaysia in the 1980s and worked on several major transportation projects for federal and state agencies, local governments and GLCs.

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