The urban traffic problems in Kuala Lumpur city are rather complex, caused not only by a poor public transport system/operation but also factors such as inadequate road junction capacity, road network inefficiency, road users’ attitude/habits, imbalance of land use development and transport infrastructure development. Equally critical is the lack of social responsibility among some major property developers. These problems have accumulated for almost a quarter of a century now, with the notable ones being:

•    No clear urban transport policy and direction, that is the American concept of vehicle priority or the   British concept of vehicle restraint in urban centres;
•    Conflicting rules and guidelines in transport versus adoption of economic development; and
•    The rapid growth of private vehicle ownership and usage. These are clearly preventing public transport from gaining ground.

In fact, the problems highlighted by our prime minister recently — after he had joined passengers on the LRT and buses and walked about the city centre — have existed since the 1980s.

Based on the current public administrative structure, it is beyond a single ministry or even the Prime Minister’s Department to implement a sustainable solution to our urban traffic problems. It is unfair to expect the mayor of the city or the director of the Urban Transport Department to resolve the issue. It must be done with coordination between the policymakers (relevant ministers), including the Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Home Affairs (enforcement), Works Ministry, Ministry of Finance, public transport licensing and control authorities and so on.

In brief, the solution requires inter-ministerial interaction. It would also go beyond the administrative boundary of Kuala Lumpur City Hall, thus requiring the cooperation of the Klang Valley secretariat and the Selangor government. When it comes to planning the road network and physical developments, we must recognise the fact that DBKL and Selangor are together on it.

Be that as it may, we are still waiting for a clear and sustainable (balanced) transport policy. We have fundamental difficulties in the economic sectors (related to transport) to sort out before any policy can be formulated. These include:

•    Automobile policy versus public transport promotion;
•    Private vehicle ownership versus transport infrastructure development;
•    Parking requirements/provisions for buildings versus vehicle parking restraints in the central business district (CBD);
•    Strengthening the effectiveness of inter-modal transit by coordinating the operation, scheduling and routing of KTM, RapidKL and private stage bus operators; and
•    Implementing walking mode in the city and community bus services in the suburban areas.

An implementable and sustainable solution will take care of the entire cross profile. The participation of the relevant ministries, local authorities, various transport operators and the general public (road users and property owners) is vital.

A change in mindset, living habits and social factors requires time. Hence, taking sensible and logical steps is equally important. Otherwise, we will still be talking about the same issue 10 years from now (bearing in mind that it was discussed and identified 15 years ago).

Unfortunately, the Draft Kuala Lumpur City Plan 2020 has not taken a dynamic approach. It only maps out the future LRT network in the city. The basis and rationale for the proposed system is not convincing and does not look into solving the current and future urban traffic problems.

An adequate solution would attempt to achieve the following:

•    Good accessibility and an effective traffic dispersal road network in the city; and
•    High public transit ridership in the city. However, different modes of transport (including walking) must be identified for different parts of the city.

In 1999, the Selangor Infrastructure Plan identified some strategic measures to divert bypassing vehicles to reduce both private and public vehicular traffic in the city (see map). Basically, it proposed to extend the fixed-track mode of transport (mass transport) and integrate the transport systems of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. The purpose was to:

•    Optimise the utilisation of existing public transport resources to provide linkage around KL to facilitate intra-Selangor movements;
•    Allow the network within KL to serve intra-city movements and traffic either originating in or heading towards KL; and
•    Provide a complete inter-modal transit system, combining KTM, LRT, feeder buses and taxis.
Measures to restrain vehicle usage in the city centre are unavoidable. However, area road pricing can only be considered when the multi-modal public transport system is mature and is an acceptable alternative to private cars (like in Hong Kong, Singapore and London). Unfortunately, we are far from reaching such a level.

For the short term, we should focus on encouraging a modal-switch rather than penalising approach. To achieve the fundamental qualities of public transport, such as comfort, reliability, safety and frequency, we may need to look at the following:

•    Review and extend the existing “bus-only lane” to function as an optimum bus priority network/corridor. Other measures, such as priority junctions, contraflow and so on, should also be adopted. Effective enforcement of bus lanes can be successful with the utilisation of CCTV and VMS technology;
•    Review the Park-n-Ride system by constructing centralised car parks along ring roads (with low and long duration parking charges) and designing limited stop or express bus services from these car parks to the CBD or LRT/bus transit stations;
•    Encourage acceptable flexi-working hours to reduce peak-hour traffic jams. Offer an early bird or late morning rate for car parks in the CBD to achieve the same objective;
•    Identify potential pedestrian priority zones around high inter-modal transit facilities. A comprehensive pedestrian network around these zones will not only enhance the quality of public transport but also enlarge its catchment areas such as Sogo, which covers Jalan Raja Laut, Jalan TAR, Masjid India and Dang Wangi area (inter-modal transit available: KTM, LRT and bus); Bukit Bintang, which covers Jalan Hang Tuah, Pudu Raya corridor (inter-modal transit available: LRT, monorail and bus); KLCC, which covers Jalan Ampang and Bukit Bintang (inter-modal transit available: LRT, monorail and bus); and Dayabumi, Pasar Seni, Masjid Jamek, China Town and Pudu Raya (inter-modal transit available: KTM, LRT and bus).
Based on the travel distance, activities and mobility characteristics of these areas, comfortable walking is the most effective and reliable mode for commuters, tourists and leisure shoppers.

However, the pedestrian system is sometimes associated with massive skybridges and walkways that are elevated or environmentally and disabled unfriendly.

A green pedestrian system can actually be achieved without major obstructions at ground level in KL city. Despite the above-mentioned elevated (structures), pedestrian crossings at major junctions or inter-building air-conditioned linkages are preferred and unavoidable. There is no shortage of design guidelines and research material on these.

Goh Bok Yen is the founder and principal of a professional transport planning consultant firm established in Malaysia since 1978

This article appeared in City & Country, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 754, May 11 – 17, 2009.