ONE of Penang’s most iconic landmarks — Penang Hill — casts an imposing shadow over the Bukit Bendera parliamentary constituency.
The state’s top tourism attractions — funicular railway, Botanic Gardens and Batu Ferringhi beach — are in the constituency.
Bukit Bendera, which is known as Seng Kee Sua among the local Hokkien community, is the only parliamentary constituency in Penang with four state seats — Kebun Bunga, Pulau Tikus, Tanjung Bungah and Air Putih.
Penang Hill residents laud the improved Penang Hill funicular train which is in the Air Putih constituency but feel more steps should be taken to prevent constant breakdowns from recurring.
“The train is faster and looks very modern too. But what good is speed if it keeps breaking down?
“I hear a lot of grouses from tourists when I go to the kopitiam for breakfast,” said a long-time resident, who wished to be known only as Soon, 79.
Pisang goreng seller Norli Yacob, 41, who has lived in Jalan Bukit Bendera for the past 16 years, is upset that the area’s notorious traffic congestion has not improved.
“The authorities have failed to control traffic congestions at Penang Hill and Kek Lok Si.
“The jam is especially terrible during the festive seasons and school holidays.
Her 10-year-old daughter Siti Nordiana Omar said she once witnessed a fire engine stuck in traffic for “a very long time” while having its emergency siren on.
“There was no space at all for cars to let the truck pass although it was an emergency situation,” she said.
Similarly, traffic crawls are a common occurrence in the Pulau Tikus constituency.
Daily congestions caused by local and outstation vehicles and double-parked cars add to the problem.
Businessman K. Uthayakumar, 54, wants an end to the traffic problem.
He wants Burma Road be converted into a one-way street to reduce the congestion in the densely populated area.
“Burma Road is long, stretching from Penang Road to Mount Erskine.
“It’s too narrow for two-way traffic.
“The traffic problem in Pulau Tikus has been here for as long as I can remember.
“Something has to be done,” the Midlands Condominium resident said, adding that widening the road was not an option as too many shophouses were located along the road.
Economy rice seller Peggie Cheah, 32, said the recent conversion of Cantonment Road into a one-way street has done nothing to alleviate the problem.
“About three months ago when the road was still a two-way street, vehicles in Burma Road coming from Penang Road were able to turn right into Cantonment Road.
“This reduces the bottleneck in Burma Road as vehicles do not need to make one big turn.
“Now, most vehicles which do not want to make that big round make their right turn into Bangkok Lane, which is already filled with vehicles parked on both sides of the road.
“It is very luan (chaotic),” she said.
Uthayakumar said the “sudden construction of uncountable super condos” in the past two years has made Pulau Tikus even more prosperous and modern.
“These projects have turned Pulau Tikus into a ‘high-class’ area now.
“The cost of living has also increased rapidly.
“This is all part and parcel of development,” he said, adding that the Pulau Tikus market hawker stalls should be better maintained and kept clean.
It is very dirty and such an eyesore now, he lamented.
While Pulau Tikus is an affluent neighbourhood, a large part of Kebun Bunga, where the Rifle Range Flats is located, is modest at best.
The nine blocks of 17 and 18-storey flats are still one of the most densely populated low-cost housing developments in the state.
Crime is a major concern among the residents, most of whom are senior citizens.
In July last year, a snatch theft caused the death of 60-year-old widow Tan Kim Chuan near Block J.
While long-time sundry shop owner Sunny Tan, 63, and his wife Doreen Cheong, 60, laud the installation of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras at the Rifle Range flats which has significantly reduced crime in the area, they find it a nightmare that there are no proper designated parking spots for motorcyclists.
“Motorcyclists will simply park their bikes in front of our shop on the ground floor.
“Besides disrupting business, it is very inconvenient for people, especially the elderly and disabled, to come to our shop.
“It is also difficult when we need to unload goods from lorries,” said Tan.
“The designated motorcycle lots are under utilised,” she said.
She also wants proper lighting at the flats’ premises to better secure the safety of residents.
“What can you see on the CCTV when it is so dark?” she asked.
Rifle Range resident Mohd Sidek, 26, said there has been “tremendous improvement” in the area which what was once a slum.
He said a major facelift has made the place much cleaner.
“It’s not so much of an eyesore as compared to some 10 years ago.
“Besides the CCTVs, the newly constructed Rifle Range Linear Park, a green lung and parking space, was a good idea,” he added.
Driver S. Letchuman, 76, who grew up in Jalan Waterfall, said a lot has been done to cater to the needs of the residents in the last 40 years.
“For instance, the new Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Hilltop Temple in Jalan Kebun Bunga caters not only to Hindu devotees but has become a popular tourist attraction.
“I am proud when I see visitors, even those who do not celebrate Thaipusam, making their way to the temple to witness the grand festival,” he said.
Some 30 minutes away, the once idyllic Tanjung Bungah has undergone rapid development in recent years.
Residents of the mainly affluent neighbourhood fear that development on the north coast bordered by hills and the sea has reached a critical level.
Landscaper M. Velu, 53, however, does not think that the hillslope projects are “a big issue if there is proper planning” as these would bring in more foreign investors to boost Penang’s economy.
Tourism development along the Batu Ferringhi belt has brought many job opportunities for the younger generation, he said.
Meanwhile, his neighbour Loke Ah Sim, 60, hopes that a proper market will be built in Batu Ferringhi.
The nearest market is in Teluk Bahang.
“I usually buy fresh produce from a makeshift van which stops by the roadside everyday near my apartment here.
“A proper market would have a more complete stock of ingredients that I need,” the economy rice seller said.
The lack of infrastructure to cope with the increasing traffic volume is a common grouse.
The 12km winding stretch of road connecting Tanjung Bungah and Teluk Bahang is extremely narrow in certain parts and more street lamps are needed as the stretch is especially dangerous on dark, rainy nights, the residents say.
On most days, it would take two to three hours to get home from Velu’s Green Lane office to Batu Ferringhi during peak hours.
Under the state government’s proposed RM6.3bil infrastructure projects, a 12km road connecting Tanjung Bungah with Teluk Bahang is in the pipeline.
While Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng is convinced that the new road would solve the worsening congestion in one of Penang’s most scenic spots, non-governmental organisations feel that constructing more roads and highways actually achieves the opposite – encouraging more traffic.