The baby steps of making George Town pedestrian-friendly through BIDS

Baby BIDS stakeholders committee chairman Datuk Frank Koay said the plan for Gurdwara Road is to make it more sustainable and to encourage more people to walk around that area. ― Pictures by Sayuti Zainudin
Baby BIDS stakeholders committee chairman Datuk Frank Koay said the plan for Gurdwara Road is to make it more sustainable and to encourage more people to walk around that area. ― Pictures by Sayuti Zainudin

GEORGE TOWN, Oct 15 — The Penang Island City Council (MBPP) is rolling out plans to beautify and expand pedestrian walkways around the Komtar vicinity as part of the business improvement district scheme (BIDS).

MBPP Mayor Datuk Yew Tung Seang said this is among the city council’s plans to make the city more pedestrian-friendly with the involvement of stakeholders in the area.

The first project, named Baby BIDS, will be rolled out in the city centre’s Magazine Circus.

“Magazine Circus is the centre point of the city and it is the best place to start this project,” he said in an interview.

Magazine Circus used to be a roundabout that led to five main thoroughfares: Magazine Road, Penang Road, Macalister Road, Datuk Keramat Road and Gurdwara Road.

“Baby BIDS” will start from the centre point to encompass the empty space in front of Gama Supermarket and stretch about 200m down Gurdwara Road.

It is the first baby step in making the city more pedestrian-friendly under BIDS.

BIDS, which was first introduced in 2009, is a collaborative scheme between stakeholders — mostly businesses and building owners — to improve each identified district.

Initially, BIDS explored how to improve the business district to generate more trade for the stakeholders.

Yew said, this time, the city council is working with various stakeholders in different parts of the city under BIDS to bring more pedestrians to these areas.

“We call the first one ‘Baby BIDS’ because it is only a small section and it will set the tone for better streetscapes in the city,” he said.

The Baby BIDS stakeholders committee chairman Datuk Frank Koay said the plan for Gurdwara Road is to make it more sustainable and to encourage more people to walk around that area.

He said it is the best spot to widen the pedestrian walkways and narrow the roads for car to the minimum of 4m for each direction.

“There is a perception that Penangites don’t like to walk but it is not true, it is because there is no space for them to walk,” he said.

He pointed to the maze of narrow streets off Gurdwara Road where there were no pedestrian walkways, forcing people to walk by the roadside and into traffic when going around cars parked by the roadside.

“The five-foot ways of the shophouses along the streets were not any better because some are blocked and many are inaccessible to wheelchairs,” he said.

He said these were not pedestrian-friendly, which then encouraged private vehicle use.

Koay said BIDS is a good way for stakeholders to have a say in bringing life and activity back to their business district.

“We know what is needed in our areas and I feel that we really need to be more pedestrian friendly because this is how we can get more business,” he said.

The plans for Gurdwara Road were simple enough: Expand the pedestrian walkway, soften the streetscape with more trees and greenery and provide street furniture to make it a more comfortable experience for pedestrians and cyclists.

The road near Gama Supermarket where it will be upgraded for the expansion of the pedestrian walkway in Jalan Gurdwara.
The road near Gama Supermarket where it will be upgraded for the expansion of the pedestrian walkway in Jalan Gurdwara.

He said when there are more pedestrians, business in the area will be boosted because pedestrians will slow down, browse and buy while cars merely drive past without stopping.

He used, as an example, the superblock idea introduced in Barcelona’s Urban Mobility Plan to give the city back to the people and reduce pollution.

Barcelona’s superblock concept takes nine square blocks of the city where large vehicles such as buses and lorries are prohibited while small vehicles may enter at very low speeds, under 10 mph, in one-way loops.

Street furniture were introduced and events held on the streets so pedestrians filled the superblock and other than reducing pollution, it also rejuvenated the whole area.

“We can do that here, one step at a time, so we start by introducing wider pedestrian walkways,” Koay said.

An open tender to implement Baby BIDS will be called within this year and Yew hoped that they can start work on it by next year.

The project is expected to take about six months to complete.

After Baby BIDS, next up is “BIDS 2” on the other side of Komtar in the areas around the famous Teochew Cendul along Keng Kwee Street.

BIDS 2 — which will involve a different set of stakeholders in that area — will cover “the octopus” pedestrian crossing on Penang Road, Keng Kwee Street, Penang Road, Campbell Street and the back lanes of these roads.

“We want to create a connectivity in this area so that it can connect to the heritage zone, through the main roads and also the back lanes,” Yew said.

He said there may even be spaces for pocket parks to be introduced in the area.

There are also plans for another BIDS project involving the “seven street district” starting from Magazine Road down to Cecil Street.

The “seven street district” is so-named because locals have Hokkien nicknames for the row of seven streets starting with “thau tiao lor” (first street for Magazine Road), “zhi tiao lor” (second street for Noordin Street), “sar tiao lor” (third street for Presgrave Street), “see tiao lor” (fourth street for Tye Sin Street), “gor tiao lor” (fifth street for Macallum Street), “lak tiao lor” (sixth street for Katz Street) and finally, “chit tiao lor” (seventh street for Cecil Street).

Yew said they will focus on Baby BIDS and BIDS 2 for now as the seven street BIDS is still under planning.

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