THE Penang State Government should consider all points of view before being defensive over the proposed Pan-Island Link 1 (PIL1) highway plans. Before the 14th General Election, Pakatan Harapan had promised to review mega projects and re-evaluate the necessity, economic feasibility and benefits of highway and infrastructure projects. Concerned citizens have now highlighted the risks of increased air, water and soil pollution and increased traffic from the proposed PIL1 highway plans.
Whether or not PIL1 will result in the decrease of property values or cut through Penang’s Youth Park is secondary to the undeniable fact that PIL1, and indeed any highway construction project, will result in poorer water and air quality for residents, and possibly more dry spells due to reduced watershed areas, and more wildlife roadkill due to greater fragmentation of areas able to support animal and bird populations.
The construction process itself will result in an increase in air and water pollution, waste generated and traffic congestion due to construction vehicles and traffic diversions. Road and highway projects do not benefit the lower-income and marginalised groups who cannot afford to own vehicles and use highways, and yet these are the groups most likely to be adversely affected by heavier traffic, noise pollution and poorer air quality.
The argument that highways are necessary for the alleviation of traffic congestion is fallacious, and anyone involved in public planning and transport policies can attest to the fact that the construction of more roads and highways will only lead to the well-known and long-established effect known as “induced traffic”.
Whenever a new road is built, more traffic will divert onto it, as more motorists would decide to make trips they would otherwise not make, and travel longer distances because of the presence of a new road. Commuters who would otherwise plan their trips and manage their time in order to carpool or take public transport would be persuaded to drive instead, as the existence of a new highway would persuade them that it would be more comfortable, convenient and time-saving to drive. Instead of planning their routes to avoid peak hour traffic, motorists would opt to drive on highways in the belief that it could accommodate more traffic and shorten their routes.
The solutions to the problem of traffic congestion are to make better use of the state’s existing road and transport systems, improve public transport, reduce incentives for private vehicle usage, and improve road safety for public transport users, cyclists and pedestrians. Penang and indeed most of Peninsular Malaysia has the infrastructure for an efficient public transport system, but unfortunately not the political will or societal commitment to make public transport systems reliable, punctual, convenient, affordable and safe. Improving road safety and the public transport system will use less public funds, benefit a greater strata of society, have a lower environmental and carbon footprint and take less time to implement than constructing more highways and roads.
Just as adding new roads and highways would not reduce traffic congestion, removing existing roads will not exacerbate the problem either. When Paris downsized and reduced roadways, motorists simply readjusted to the new system and up to 20% of commuters switched to public transport.
When Seoul shut down a highway and replaced it with a river, parkland and smaller roads, traffic situations did not change but air quality and city living conditions improved.
The Penang state government is not required to make a decision as radical as closing down existing roads. It would, however, be courageous and responsible for it to review and reconsider the necessity of PIL1.
WONG EE LYNN
Green Living Special Interest Group,
Malaysian Nature Society