MAY 16 — It stupefies that I hesitate to write about this life and death matter.

It may be due to it being about nobodies.

Expiration for those already set for extermination by social convention, if not economic norms, since they merit less.

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All these must be true, because it feels petty to write about it.

To write about pedestrian paths. But you, the citizen, are probably a better judge of it.

Anyway, these access for humans with many names — walkways, lanes, alleys, pavements, trails, road shoulders or footpaths — enable those without motorised transport to travel safely, most certainly in towns and cities.

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Without them, pedestrians face danger. And they are often absent. Hundreds of thousands of pedestrians are risking their lives daily in Malaysia.

The simple and obvious is grossly overlooked. Unsystematically ignored for decades, it adds up to a grotesque proportion of total neglect.

Where to begin this fool’s errand?

Every zone in a town or city should be accessible on foot, which by definition demands full connectivity. Councils will use the law or ask for new laws to ensure they are able to pay for or ask others to finance these pathways. — Picture by FIrdaus Latif
Every zone in a town or city should be accessible on foot, which by definition demands full connectivity. Councils will use the law or ask for new laws to ensure they are able to pay for or ask others to finance these pathways. — Picture by FIrdaus Latif

There are 13 councils and a corporation in the Klang Valley, and they compete hard to exhibit maximum contempt for pedestrians. Look at their towns and cities.

Like in my backyard, Cheras.

The Venice Hill commune is a kilometre away from the commercial area of Alam Jaya but hardly anyone except migrants walk the distance. Citizens opt for cars or motorbikes. Why, other than the suspicion they abhor physical exercise?

Self-preservation is closer to the truth.

The walk asks one to avoid at least six uncovered manholes — risk falling into a deep culvert — and evade remnants of minor landslides, mud with contorted trunks and branches.

Escape those pitfalls, there's a long flat stretch of road with a natural pathway, waiting. Natural in the sense they erected drains on either side and then a standard road in the middle.

Whatever land remaining is the default pedestrian trail. Some parts narrow to half a foot, excellent for the training of trapeze artists.

The migrants — children, women, workers, footballers, soothsayers — do it because there is no “not do” option.

At the main commercial area, Taman Permata residents across the road would rather drive than walk 80 metres to the shops.

The road was elevated when it was reconstructed as a dual carriageway a few years ago. The makeshift steps by the uncanny contractor are so steep, professional climbing gear are necessary to go up or down.

Plus, the crossings along the 400 metre main road are impossible for my old university senior with a mild disability, since the dividers are too high for him and he has to hold on to the steel streetlight poles — which he is petrified might electrocute him.

No Klang Valley resident needs to go to Cheras to check the veracity of the claims because his own locality has ample examples of absent walkways for pedestrians.

Somewhere tangled up inside 50 years of centralised power in Putrajaya, local councils acting as bureaucratic outposts free to act on non-political administrative but lucrative endeavours as long as they support the current political overlords, is the reason.

Pedestrians are not even an afterthought.

This is not to accuse malice. Far from it. The people who run the 13 councils and one corporation are likely ignorant that overall foot traffic — the existence of safe footpaths with complete connectivity — is their responsibility.

A 14-minute walk from Cheras Sentral to Taman Cuepacs Cheras separates mass transit from residence.

However, while the MRT folks have put a walkway at their end, it abruptly ends. It has to, since the inlet to SUKE Highway begins.

Then a beguiling 300 metre brisk walk past the church — a blur of walking path and highway — and into the safe enclosure of the police camp. Roadkill central, really.

Police to write the death report, the church for the funeral and poetically, the country’s leading senior police academy on the other side of the highway has a great view of the danger zone.

For grown-ups in charge to adult themselves

Several times visitors from developed countries warn me when I walk on the road. They say, stay on the pavement, on the sidewalk, the legal path for those without vehicles.

It makes me laugh.

We are so used to not expecting a sidewalk therefore we do not distinguish between road and not road, just possible and not possible paths. It’s Mad Max for walkers in Malaysia.

The want is for the federal government to institute a clear protocol, in which all laws, state enactments and council by-laws are constructed or deconstructed first. Therefore, all policies follow in effect, to uphold pedestrians as a priority.

Every zone in a town or city should be accessible on foot, which by definition demands full connectivity. Councils will use the law or ask for new laws to ensure they are able to pay for or ask others to finance these pathways.

This is not an overnight burden on councils. The sheer magnitude of the undertaking is down to half a century of neglect.

The fixing will take years but that is what is necessary. I do not expect a team from Kajang Municipality Council (MPKj) to arrive within the week to sort out Venice Hill and the 20 other tamans in Zone 2, Kajang.

I do want it to be their headache. For them to list down where these adjustments and realignments are wanting, and to get going with the job.

Protection differentiation by social class

I started this with hesitation. Fearing it gets pooh-poohed as a fringe issue.

Perhaps there is a deep class fracture in our society, which relegates the issue.

Because people who read — not read this column, necessarily — are by large middle-class and drive. There are train people but most park or get picked up at the station. Those who walk a considerable amount are from the lower income classes. They live lives exposed to the dangers of absent walkways.

Our society puts a premium on car ownership. So, psychologically to them those who must walk are less affluent or do not have car-owning parents. They have chosen to be in a situation to walk these dangerous paths.

These pedestrians by their social preoccupation and limitations are also unable to campaign for improvements or worse unaware lobbying works, and even if they did likely fail to organise the masses behind the matter.

Just 300 metres from my home, an elderly woman got hit by a bus and died years ago. The sidewalk is non-existent where the incident occurred.

Her family wept, and little else happened after. It is unfortunate and the way people talk about it is absurd. Like asking why she was there? Yes, why indeed. Like why did the chicken cross the road?

She wanted to get somewhere. Instead of asking where her car was, we should ask ourselves where is our humanity?

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.