THE Petaling Jaya one-way loop, called OWL for short, has brought the worst out of motorists since its implementation on Oct 12.
At least this is the opinion of most residents living within or close to the loop.
The OWL had recorded its first fatality of a hotel staff who tried to cross Jalan Utara just two months into the trial run. There were numerous vehicular accidents before that.
With many high-rise developments approved within the loop, both the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) and the Pakatan state government may be left with little options but to make the OWL permanent.
My guess is the plan will take off no matter how loud the cries of protest from Petaling Jaya folk.
Among the upcoming projects around the “golden loop” of Section 52 and its immediate neighbouring areas are PJ Sentral, Pinnacle, PJX, VSQ and PJ8.
Development may come with benefits. This includes more job opportunities, better revenue for the council and it could secure a better economy for the nation.
However, local residents question: at what cost?
The council may have overlooked the fact that the loop plan affects residential areas, numerous places of worship, schools, a hospital and welfare centres.
Hence, the priority should be to make the roads in the loop safe for pedestrians, the people who walked to and from these public buildings.
The pavements, overhead bridges and push-button pedestrian crossings must be provided at suitable locations with top notch maintenance.
They must be in place before the traffic changes were implemented, but that was not the case.
The loop must be public transport friendly and the focus should not just be for private vehicle users. MBPJ needs to address this flaw.
Interestingly this 12km “golden loop” has no speed limit, since there are no such signboards to be seen anywhere leading to and along the route.
After several of the road dividers were removed, it has turned into a six-lane speeding track.
Many fancy the fact that they could speed to their destinations. This is especially true of non-Petaling Jaya residents and those who do not live close to OWL.
Those who love the traffic system change will even forgive the poor road condition here.
While the OWL has its fair share of supporters, the large majority — comprising residents and business owners — hate it.
It has changed their quality of life for the worse. Directly affected are those living in Sections 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 52.
MBPJ Engineering Department director Ismail Shafie said the first research for the loop was done in 1995 and was part of the Petaling Jaya Transportation research.
In 2001, MBPJ and MAG Technical and Development Consultancy Sdn Bhd conducted another study. In 2012, the company updated its previous study.
The mayor Datin Paduka Alinah Ahmad had earlier told StarMetro that the council had always wanted to carry out the OWL project but lacked the funds to do so in the early 2000s.
Over the years, the council had accumulated a substantial amount of funding in the council’s Development Trust Fund through funds contributed by the developers of several projects centred around the loop.
Ismail said MBPJ conducted a workshop attended by community leaders and several other authorities on Oct 18, 2012.
A public exhibition of the OWL plans was held for two weeks from Jan 21, 2013, at the council headquarters before engineering consultant A. Sani and Associates Bhd and project contractor Islah Niaga were appointed.
The two-phased, one-way loop project costs a total of RM23.7mil, with the first phase racking up about RM2mil.
On Dec 24, StarMetro reported that MBPJ had decided to make OWL permanent.
Alinah said the decision was made by the council during the December infrastructure meeting and councillors were in favour.
Meanwhile, MCA party veteran Datuk Dr Wong Sai Hou wanted the council to revert Jalan Yong Shook Lin to the original route because the anti-clockwise traffic direction was a nuisance.
He said that although the one-way loop system of Jalan Utara, Timur, Barat and Jalan Sultan seemed to have eased traffic, he urged the council to ensure the road was safe for users particularly pedestrians.
During a public briefing session on Dec 9, hundreds of concerned Petaling Jaya residents and business owners reasoned to the panel why they felt the OWL was a failure.
Chew Ti Way, a business owner in AmcorpMall, shared his grievances over the losses he and his peers experienced since the loop took effect.
He said the greatest fear of shop proprietors in Petaling Jaya New Town and AmcorpMall was that they would not be able to sustain their businesses.
The system was also a turn-off for taxi passengers, whom Chew said now had to pay double the usual fare before the loop was implemented.
During the briefing, an MBPJ consultant acknowledged that OWL did not take into account the proposed Kinrara-Damansara Expressway (Kidex).
He said if the elevated expressway was approved, the concessionaire would need to take into account the OWL for its traffic impact study.
Planning and local government law expert Derek Fernandez, who is also a former city councillor, said MBPJ had created a hazard by not doing a road safety audit for the loop.
He said MBPJ would be legally liable if any accident or losses occurred along the loop.
With so many hiccups, loopholes and potholes in the implementation of OWL, MBPJ should go back to the drawing board and think this matter through.
The council’s intentions may be noble. However, until they have the capacity to implement the OWL with no glitches and no further road fatality, they should shelve the project.
The one life gone should not be looked at lightly. The chaotic start on Oct 12 must not be forgotten.
The mayor’s tenure ends on Dec 31 and the next mayor will not have the liberty to waste any time but has to deal immediately with issues related to the loop.
That is if the new mayor is appointed right away so that there is continuity and a proper handover from Alinah.
But based on the Pakatan government’s track record in Selangor, the seat may be vacant for some time and the burden will be shouldered by deputy mayor Puasa Md Taib.