Transport expert: Bus lanes better than LRTs for Penang

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GEORGE TOWN: A dedicated bus lane straddling existing roads is the best bet to alleviate traffic in Penang than the elevated Light Rail Transit (LRT), a transport academic from Australia shared yesterday.

University of Queensland urban planning lecturer Dr Dorina Pojani said the system, commonly known as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), was the cheapest and the most effective way to allay traffic woes.

She said BRTs would cost one-tenth that of LRTs and has seen great take-up and effectiveness in South American countries such as Colombia.

Pojani said BRTs were a perfect fit for medium-sized townships like George Town and many other parts of Penang.

She suggested that at-grade (road level) BRTs had seen high success rates in South American nations and were being closely followed by many countries in Europe.

“The traditional thought is that roads are some sort of magic wand to reduce congestion. But today, it has made things worse.

“BRTs are not a fantasy but it is already demonstrated successfully in many countries,” the urban transport expert said.

Recognising there may be obstacles in having a road-level BRT system, she said it could be implemented if the powers-that-be were optimistic and strong-willed.

“We must remain optimistic and confident before implementing such a thing. We need to believe things can improve.

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“Penang might go through the same thing and so why experience such problems when preventive measures can be taken now?” she added.

Pojani said this during an open talk titled “Urban Transport Crisis in Small and Medium Size Developing Cities and the Effectiveness of Countermeasures” organised by the Penang Heritage Trust.

Taking note of Penang’s plans to build LRTs criss-crossing the island, Pojani said elevated structures would ultimately disturb the visual landscape.

As an example, she said authorities in the historic city of Delft in The Netherlands, had to tear down an elevated train structure built in the 1960s.

“The city was divided in two and famous historic buildings’ views were blocked.

“To restore the city’s visual aesthetics and to eliminate noise pollution, they embarked on a project in 1999 to get the trains to go underground.

“Last year, they completed the first phase of the project and you can see the city has been rejuvenated, freeing up space for the public,” Pojani said.

Meanwhile, she also suggested a congestion charge zone be imposed on motorists at George Town’s inner city to protect its World Heritage Site.

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She said once created, only locals and business owners living within the area would be exempted from the charge.

“This, I say is a potential solution, despite it being not the best. Besides that, a time restriction for cars could also work.

“But with rigorous and strict enforcement, we can shave off traffic congestion to the precious heritage site by a lot and save it from degrading,” she said.

On a different note, Pojani said Penang and other medium-sized cities in Malaysia could avoid future traffic snarls by proactively regulating land use.

She said town planners should ensure future development took place around transport terminals i.e. transport-oriented-development.

“Why not learn from the bad experiences of other cities around the world and take proactive steps before it happens here?

“Look at Beijing. Do you want to walk around with face masks as the pollution is already at dangerous levels?”

Pojani said town planners should prioritise first and foremost pedestrians and cyclists, then public transport (tramways, buses), and lastly cars.

She said permanent bicycle lanes shared with roads should be prioritised as well, to encourage cycling.

In response to claims by Malaysians that it was too hot to cycle outdoors, Pojani begged to differ.

“In cycling cities in Europe such as Amsterdam, it can be very cold or wet or both.

“Over here, if you are concerned about heat, I find that highly unlikely as you generate adequate breeze to cool you while you are on the move. Also, there are electrically-powered cycles,” she added.