The ill-conceived road-widening along Green Lane will ‘sacrifice’ dozens of trees along Green Lane – and this is only just the beginning. Is this what we want?

The federal government’s failure to provide public transport and our obsession with private motor vehicles (with the federal and state governments ever willing to pander to this obsession through new highways, tunnels and bridges – all big money spinners for the corporate boys) will cost us dearly. Expect more road-widening projects in the coming years to result in more tree-lined streets being stripped bare.

Why is the bus service so poor along Green Lane? What about bicycle lanes along these streets and wider pedestrian walkways? How about water taxis? Forget it. We are more interested in short-sighted solutions like building underpasses and flyovers so that motorists can bypass traffic lights – only to end up in even more choked streets. Green Lane? What ‘Green’ Lane…? At a time when the World Bank is warning us that the planet faces a climate change catastrophe this century, we are stripping our streets of trees.

In many ways, what is happening in Green Lane now is a sign of things to come. It is a battle between two different paths of development – the sustainable model and an unsustainable model. Which is it that we are going to choose? Politicians and planners are inclined to think of short-term solutions. But the ordinary people are here for the long haul.

Penangites, are you going to sit quietly and allow your streets to be shorn of trees – all because you love your cars so much (because you have been deprived of decent public transport)? How long are you going to sit by and allow politicians and planners to deprive you of decent public transport, bicycle lanes and safe pedestrian walkways? Why should public transport be decided in KL? Why is the federal government holding back improvements in public transport in Penang? Is there nothing the state government can do to encourage greater use of public transport? Why is there no official campaign to encourage more people to use buses and to cycle to work? To promote cycling, we need to plant more trees to provide shade – not remove them from our streets!

Can we not wait to find out the result of the general election before hastily removing the trees? What if Pakatan wins (a big IF) at the federal level? Won’t it then be able to improve public transport, thus saving the trees of Green Lane (just like how Penang was saved in the nick of time from the horrendous Penang Global City Centre project, the last time around)?

What is the history behind the trees along Green Lane? How were they protected for so long? An environmentalist provides the following background:

The angsana trees along Scotland road and Green lane are of a variable age. Some of the big ones on Scotland road and along York Road are about 120 years old and planted by the first curator of the Penang Botanic Gardens, Charles Curtis. According to Prof. Holttum when he came to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Penang Botanic Garden, there was a disease outbreak in the 1920s and this killed off quite a number of angsana in Penang and also Malacca and Singapore. In Penang, the then director of the gardens, Flippanes, replanted the angsanas, which makes the trees about 90 years old.

When the road widening project along Green Lane was proposed in the late 1970s, the trees were to be cut down. The MNS protested strongly and activists went to see the exco in charge, Khor Gark Kim. He then instructed JKR not to cut the trees but acquire land from the private houses so that a row of trees would be at the centre – and the road was a bit crooked and curving in part because of this decision as land could not be acquired continuously on one side of the road. I would give credit to Khor Gark Kim for this courageous decision.

But the serious failure of successive administrations to provide and promote sustainable transport continues to rankle. What we are witnessing now reflects a deficit of vision and imagination for alternative, more sustainable solutions.