A visitor to this blog, Tourist from Munich , had some scathing comments about the traffic situation here.

Here’s an example:

I think the traffic here is a disaster. Thinking driving a car is a sign of success, that it brings safety. On the contrary your road environment is ugly, stinking, smelly and polluted. Crime can increase as others just drive by. Nobody likes to walk around in this mess.

Take care, clean up. And yes, create space for walking and cycling. Build trams if possible. Recapture the public space. This makes going around and shopping everywhere enjoyable. It improves the quality of air and your life.

Speaking of which, when is RapidPenang going to be decentralised from Putrajaya to Penang? Why is the take-up for bus season tickets so low?

As for pedestrians, many of our pavements are so poorly built they don’t meet standards of universal design.

The other day, I noticed a man pushing someone on a wheelchair along the road leading up to the Penang Hill Railway. He had to push the wheelchair on the road itself, as the poorly designed narrow pavements with obstructions and drops made it impossible for a wheelchair user to use them. He couldn’t push the wheelchair on the roadside next to the curb either as cars were parked there. So he had to push the wheelchair well into the road.

This reflects a lack of official and social empathy and compassion for those who rely on improved accessiblity to move around on our streets. I am sure similar scenes are played out in other towns across the country. If we don’t see wheelchair users on our streets or pavements, it simply means they do not dare to venture outdoors. They remain as ‘prisoners’ indoors. And we call ourself a caring society?

One suggestion: before any new or renovated pavement can be approved as fit for public use, there should be a wheelchair test: the municipal/town council official responsible for approving it should take an unassisted ride on a wheelchair along the entire length of the pavement before the contractor can receive final payment. That should do the trick. Of course that assumes there was a proper design and that the contractor is capable of building universally accessible pavements.

Oh, I must share with you another anecdote. The other day I was in the USM area and an American tourist, probably in his fifties or sixties, approached me to ask for directions to Queensbay.

I told him it was probably too far to walk (a 30-minute walk perhaps?) and he might be better off taking a bus.

He looked at me quizzically and laughed, “You Malaysians are so afraid of walking and need cars to get around everywhere. I will walk there; just tell me how to get there.” He was clearly dressed for walking: cap, white T-shirt, light backpack and comfortable walking shoes. We had a little political discussion as well and he seemed embarrassed about the US’ foreign military adventures, which he said they had no business getting into.

After a little chit-chat, I pointed him the way to Queensbay, and off he went, leaving me wondering why more of us don’t just walk to nearby destinations, less than 20-30 minutes walk away. Could it be something to do with the lack of properly designed pavements and shady trees as well as concerns about road safety along major thoroughfares? Or are we so used to hopping into the comfort of a car or other forms of motorised transport even to destinations that are within walking distance? Or maybe it is a combination of both – the push and pull factors, so to speak.

Time to walk more, don’t you think? It’s good exercise too! (Gandhi was convinced long walks could keep away illnesses.) Shall we make this our New Year’s resolution? And while we are at it, we should also call for improved pedestrian pavements and tree-lined streets.