IN 2016, the Penang Island City Council launched the “Pedestrian is King” campaign to empower pedestrians, especially when walking around George Town. Five years later, there have been some projects to create more pedestrian- friendly areas (back lane renovations, widening of Jalan Gurd-wara’s walkway and upgrading the iconic “octopus” bridge near Komtar). These are commendable but very far from ideal, especially when it comes to traffic light-controlled crossings or in established residential areas outside the core of George Town.
Some notable examples I can mention that are not pedestrian- friendly are the six-lane Lebuhraya Thean Teik, five/six-lane Jalan Masjid Negeri and the four-lane section of Lebuhraya Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu after Queensbay Mall. These roads, which are used by pedestrians, are very straight in design and that encourages speeding; they also don’t have suitable/adequate pedestrian facilities.
In fact, on Jalan Masjid Negeri, I had a near miss with an elderly lady who miscued her crossing from the residential area across from Lam Wah Ee hospital. The nearest pedestrian bridges are near Penang Free School and the Cerebral Palsy Children’s Association of Penang, which doesn’t make sense as it would require a long round trip just to safely access the areas/businesses around the hospital. The elderly lady was lucky to avoid me, the adjacent motorcycle and the impatient car behind. That incident could have been fatal if any of us had decided to “put the pedal to the metal”.
And then there is our motorists’ attitude towards pedestrian infrastructure. It has become a norm for vehicles of all sizes to ignore red lights – so much so that the Road Transport Department had to initiate Ops Merah (which is possibly a follow-up to Ops Lampu Isyarat Merah launched in December 2020 by the police).
Reckless driving is also a problem in George Town, especially when the roads are fairly empty, as most are rushing to clock in for the 7am shift. As Penang has 767 CCTV cameras around the island with a facial recognition system (“Eyes set on the wanted in Penang”, The Star, Jan 3, 2019; online at bit.ly/star_cameras), I did suggest through the Penang state government portal that the police should use these cameras to issue summonses to traffic offenders. I received a bewildering response saying that, legally, CCTV footage cannot be used to issue summonses. The footage can only be used for monitoring and as additional evidence for an ongoing investigation. An enforcement officer still needs to be physically present at the location to tackle the issue.
In my opinion, it is useless to have the latest technologies when there are still archaic laws that prevent using such technology to its full potential. Over in Shenzhen, China, traffic offenders have been caught on cameras since 2018 and are publicly shamed as well. While I do not agree with public shaming, I do think that CCTVs can make capturing offenders much more efficient.
Penang has nine more years to achieve its Penang2030 vision. Can the state government realise Theme D1 – i.e. “balancing development through effective spatial planning” – by then? Would the Bayan Baru MP’s hopes for a “15-Minute Walkable City” be realised?
Can we as a Malaysian Family be more inclusive of pedestrians? The challenge of making the streets more pedestrian-friendly must be taken up by not only the Penang state government but also other local authorities as well as the Federal Government.
A. LEE , Penang