A transportation vision for Penang’s future

Komtar faceliftThe year is set at 2040, where major projects involving new transportation networks and the rejuvenation of the central business district of George Town are finally complete.

Roger Teoh. The Malaysian Insider.  6 December 2015 8:31 AM

The main centre of attention is the redevelopment of Komtar and its surrounding areas. I would envisage land use at this central zone of George Town to be mixed, involving not only commercial and residential areas, but also as a major transportation hub allowing for transit between different modes of transports.

Here, the construction of two undersea tunnels linking Bagan, Seberang Perai to the heart of George Town will also be completed.  One of the undersea tunnel will be used to carry road traffic between the island and mainland as currently proposed by the Penang government, while a second undersea tunnel will be designed to accommodate the use of high-speed rail linking Penang to other parts of the country.

The prospect of a high-speed rail network linking George Town directly to other parts of Malaysia will without doubt deliver high economic returns.

With the trains designed to reach speeds in excess of 360 kmh, this will cut down the time spent in commuting drastically, taking less than an hour to reach the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, and around two hours to arrive at Singapore.

So what benefits will a high-speed rail bring to Penang? Economically, it makes it easier for business travellers getting into Penang or going around to other parts of the country.

Not only that, Penangites will too be able to have more job opportunities as travel time becomes significantly shorter.

In addition to that, a transformed Komtar as major transportation hub can be used as an integration point, linking national rail services of the new high-speed trains and the local public transportation network.

Efficient bus services, as well as historic tram networks that once roamed the city in the late 19th century will be brought back to life, improving the public transportation system in George Town.

In my opinion, Penang should follow the footsteps of Western European cities and consider embracing the idea of a transit-oriented development.

This idea encourage land developments along tram networks as a way not only to support urban mobility, but also allowing the population density in the city to be configured more densely without worsening traffic congestion.

Not only has Penang been left with an inadequate road network infrastructure, the lack of space in the island also restricts any road widening works to accommodate more traffic.

Hence, this reinforces the need to use different sustainable modes of transportation, such as the tram system to meet the rising demands of Penang’s intra-city trips.

Once the tram network is completed, the idea of banning motorised vehicles around the highly valued cultural sites near Weld Quay and Fort Cornwallis can be implemented.

Since the small alleys of old George Town constructed in the 19th century were not designed to accommodate high volumes of traffic, it will be perfectly sensible to pedestrianise the streets.

This will encourage more street level activities, increase the overall attractiveness and liveability of the area.

While it is true that all these imaginations for the future of Penang requires large sum of investments in new infrastructure, the economic appraisal of these transportation projects will prove that its potential economic benefits strongly outweigh the costs.

A baseline for the total cost of transformation for George Town is reasonable to be estimated around RM50 billion, judging on the fact that the proposed undersea tunnel will cost around RM6.3 billion.

Assuming that these series of projects start at different time frames, the RM50 billion of investment required can be spread over a period of 25 years, which works out to be around RM 2 billion per year.

Judging from the fact that Penangites pay an average of RM5 billion of tax to the federal government yearly, a RM2 billion investment every year from the federal government seems perfectly sensible.

Additionally, should there be a need for extra funding, these projects can also be equitable through a series of public-private partnership, again similar to the proposed 6.5km Penang undersea tunnel that is scheduled to start construction in 2016.

Public transportation corridors can be described as a city’s main arteries that brings prosperity, as well as job opportunities to the surrounding urban agglomerate.

With businesses designed to cluster together in order for its productivity to increase, a lack of new transportation infrastructure to meet rising demands can certainly constrain economic growth in a city.

Thus, it is vital for George Town to revitalise in order to meet the demands of the 21st century and flourish to be a truly world class city by 2040.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

– See more at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/transportation-vision-for-penangs-future-roger-teoh#sthash.aH0D28yi.dpuf

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Some good ideas here — sustainable modes of transportation, pedestrianization of  historic center, TOD (transit oriented development), banning car traffic in certain areas — but also a number of what I might call “less good” (“egregious” might be anther term) ideas, but let us leave it to the reader to sort this out for themselves.

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About the editor:

Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Educated as an international development economist, Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher and sustainability activist who has worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change, civil society and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets: The Politics of Transport in Cities | See Britton online at https://goo.gl/9CJXTh and @ericbritton

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