JULY 23 — When I read about Penang state's intention to build a 20 KM long highway called the Pan Island Link 1 (PIL1) from the north to the south of the island, I was flabbergasted that the state would want to invest billions of ringgit into building a highway which would not only be a temporary fix to our traffic woes but also one which would carry disproportionately large environmental and social consequences for our island.
Firstly, this proposed highway would cut through two important urban green spaces on the island, the Penang City Park (Youth Park) and the Sungai Ara Linear Park. Both these parks were created with the intention of giving people in Penang access to quality recreational and community space as well as an accessible area to get away from the pollution of city. Today, thousands of people including myself utilise these spaces, in the mornings and evenings for a wide range of activities.
The World Health Organization (WHO) stresses the importance of spaces like these in reducing chronic stress, improving mental health and cognitive functions. With the highway cutting through both parks, it would not only restrict access to the parks during the construction but also result in a permanent visual and environmental damage.
While YAB CM Chow has addressed concerns in minimizing the visual impact of the highway on these the Youth Park, what about the air pollution from vehicles that would be plying the 6 lane bridge above the park, as proposed in the PIL1 plan? Are the studies convincing enough to prove that there will not be any detrimental effect from these roads to the public's health? The last thing we Penangites would want is to be breathing in noxious air while jogging in the Youth Park!
The construction of this highway also is based on the assumption that cars and other modes of private transportation on the island will keep increasing in the near future because of a poor public transportation system. In an age where climate change is the single biggest challenge we face, and with transportation being a large contributor of Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG), the State Government should seek to implement climate smart solutions to tackle our traffic problems.
These include revamping our public transportation system and creating a more connected and safe net of pedestrian and cycling networks. The state should stop feeding this car culture by building more highways and roads, as more roads will only encourage more cars. The nature of the PIL1 which is more than 50% a tunnel makes it more car-friendly rather than public transport friendly. This is because it would make no sense to have any bus stops along the underground tunnel part of the route, making only bus stops viable in less than 50 per cent of the entire route.
What Penang should do is to emulate other cities which have already started investing in more sustainable modes of urban mobility. While we keep wanting to build more roads and highways, other cities like New Orleans and Amsterdam are transforming their infrastructure to reduce car dependence and encourage active transportation. These cities are incentivising public transit ridership, making public transportation applications available and investing in improving connections between different transport modes, making it more convenient for the general public to use public transportation. Not only are there cost saving, but they also have a proven track record of effectively reducing traffic woes in these cities as well as reducing green house gas emissions. Penang should be leading the way in looking for innovative solutions to our transport needs and not fall back to a never ending cycle of building more highways which would only encourage more cars.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.