More highways would be disastrous for Penang


Despite calls from many concerned Penangites for more sustainable transport in the state, the Penang state government is adamant about building more highways and a tunnel, arguing that it does not have control over public transport in the state.

The draft Penang transport master plan is most disappointing. Instead of coming up with just one proposal for sustainable transport, the consultants have come up with two alternative approaches: a so-called ‘balanced approach’ that emphasises public transport and an alternative ‘fall-back’ proposal that emphasises building seven highways at a cost of RM12.5bn. Very conveniently, the fall-back option is RM0.5bn cheaper than the ‘balanced approach’.

This ‘fall-back’ approach for more highways is actually a disgraceful cop-out that will be disastrous for Penang. For one thing, the costs are heavily under-stated: RM12.5bn is just the cost of the infrastructure. It does not measure motorists’ fuel costs (oil prices are rising as reserves dwindle), labour hours lost waiting in traffic jams when the highways eventually get jammed, depletion of resources used in building cars and roads (and a tunnel), and the emissions costs (climate change) during construction and commuting. All this will add up to a colossal amount in coming years.

Sure, the federal government and its agencies control Rapid Penang buses, Penang Port (which is being sold to Syed Mokhtar?) and the ferries, the airport, and Penang Bridge. And these outfits don’t even seem to be coordinating with one another.

But it is a fallacy that the Penang government can’t do anything about sustainable transport just because public transport operators come under the federal goverment.

Ironically, the documentary movie “Urbanized’ jointly screened by Penang Institute (a state government-funded think tank) and Think City (funded by the federal government) showed what is possible for transport and other urban issues under visionary leadership. (By the way, if Penang Institute/MPPP and Think City can work with each other, why not the Penang state government and RapidPenang?) Look at the bus rapid transit and bicycle lanes of Bogota where the interests of bus commuters and cyclists have been given more importance than private motorists. Thus Bogota has an efficient BRT and excellent cycle lanes.

The then mayor of Bogota, Enrique Penalosa, sees this as the democratisation of transport. After all, why should a few motorists have more right of way than a bus-load of 50-100 passengers? “A protected bicycle way is important as it protects cyclists but it is also very important as it is a symbol that shows that a citizen on a US$30 bicycle is equally important as one in a US$30000 car,” he asserts. “It is a very powerful symbol of democracy.”

Penalosa said that motorists even seem to think that they have some bizarre basic human right right to park. But he says he has read the human rights charter, which spells out that people have the right to certain basic freedoms, and nowhere does it state that people have the right to adequate parking! On the contrary, governments can do more to promote public transport while making it more expensive for people to park their cars.

Another example: Copenhagen has 37 per cent of its residents cycling. To increase cycle ridership in Penang does NOT require federal government intervention. Of course, there will be a few namby-pambies around arguing that the weather here is too hot (haven’t we heard of shady trees?) and giving all kinds of reasons why cycling is not feasible. Don’t pay too much attention to them; instead listen to the growing number of young and enthusiastic cyclists and would-be/potential cyclists. Why, just today, I saw a long convoy of 30 cyclists happily pedalling along Gurney Drive while cars were crawling along the same road.

For that matter, what has the Penang government done to encourage more people to use Rapid Penang buses? Not much. It has come up with a couple of praiseworthy initiatives such as Best (the Penang bridge shuttle bus) and the free circular bus service within George Town. That is only a beginning. The state government should be more creative in encouraging Penangites to take the bus or cycle while making the streets conducive and safer for pedestrians and cycling. You don’t need the useless federal government for that.

So please, please, no more major highways for Penang. It is time to wean Penangites away from their obsession with private motor vehicles.

We should demand that the transport master plan consultants scrap the ‘build-more-highways’ strategy from their final draft. This approach only panders to the big construction boys – at the expense of the public. Once we go down the highway route, it will become more and more difficult to go back to a more sustainable approach. Surely this is not the legacy the Pakatan government in Penang wants to leave behind.

Proposing more highways is not what we paid the transport consultants RM3m out of public funds for. Why are they recommending the discredited and regressive model of more highways? Any schoolchild could come up with a proposal for more highways. That is not visionary leadership.

When Penalosa came into office, he received a big transport study for Bogota that had been done by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency. This study proposed (along with some bus lanes and public transport) seven highways (the same number proposed in the Penang master plan under the highway approach!) at a cost of more than US$5bn. The city rejected the study and instead opted for more efficient public transport. That is visionary leadership.

But then again the Penang transport master plan consultants probably included the highway approach because they know this is what the state government wants – and the state government is the paymaster.

This is backward policy making. The Penang state government came up with their ‘solution’ first (more highways) and then probably told the consultants that this is what has been “committed”. The consultants then blindly accepted whatever the state government dished out to them and came up with a “more highways” approach to keep their paymasters happy. Does this reflect a progressive vision of sustainable transport? Surely not.

The challenge is to come up with a more sustainable approach for Penang. In this, we can learn a thing or two from Penalosa, who is now the President of the New York-based Institute of Transport and Development Policy, which promotes sustainable and equitable transport worldwide. Ask him what he thinks of the “more highways” approach for Penang!

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David Turner

Dear Anilnetto, I have read your article with interest. I would like to clarify a number of issues raised therein. The exhibition on the Overarching Transport Master Plan sets out a Core Strategy for implementation before 2020 and two possible ways forward after that date. We (the Consultants) are recommending that the Core Strategy be adopted and are consulting the public on the two alternative longer term ways forward. The Core Strategy is targeted primarily at making the existing transport systems within Penang work properly The two longer term alternatives are based either around – Building only new roads OR… Read more »

Jonny T

Unfortunately, there are quite a number in Penang & Malaysia who think the solution is build more roads & widen more lanes. And also the mindset of the motor car as a status symbol to show wealth… or that he is “moving up”. This mindset is quite frequently observed in economically developing nations… developed countries tend to have less of this mentality. But with more awareness, we can convince these people that this method is unsustainable in the near future. This is where Penang’s NGOs & lobby groups can step in. In 10 years time, when the current young generation… Read more »


Simple arithmetic:
Increasing cars on the road + limited space on the island = more hellish traffic jams (to come).
Example: Just queue up on the way home everyday at Air Itam / Green Lane traffic junction starting 5.30pm – 7.30pm. This was none existent 5 years ago except for traffic lights konk-out or floods!
Still want more highways & more “Bing Chui” cars?
BTW, lethal fireworks at Straits of Hormuz are already in place to fire anytime soon for the hellish launch of rise in petrol price. Happy driving!!!

Jonny T

Anil, I think your response is too pessimistic and doesn’t see the Balanced Approach portion in the proposal… the ones with BRTs, Komuter rail on mainland, and prioritization of public transports. To me, the Highway Only option serves as a contrast to the Balanced Approach option. It is also pointed out that the H.O option will only encourage private car ownership, leading to unsustainability in the future. As for the third link, it should be built, but should be a rail-only tunnel. At the same time, the Bayan Lepas-KOMTAR-Weld Quay BRT should be upgraded to some form of rail to… Read more »


I just don’t understand the Penang people mindset. Penang is a SMALL Island. It seems many people REFUSE to look into the map. It is SMALL-SMALL-SMALL. Open googlemap, map a route from one point to another point, The furthest P237 highway to north east Tanjub bungah = 33km , get a longer route? 44km. Yes, it is good millions spend on the pro-highway reports/study. But is that mean Penang state government take the “Sunk cost fallacy” and continue the pro-highway mentality ? I will keep my finger crossed. OTH. I also tired of state government claims they have no rights… Read more »


Some blokes don’t see it your way – pro bicycles, manual or electric. All they think of is Speedy Gonzales habits. Rapid Bus is not spared if it goes slow & careful. I have taken rides on some of these buses & truly appreciate their drivers’ care compared to Yellow Bus drivers of the 80’s. No wonder the Feds are always happy to create such Speedy ‘G’ conveniences at a ‘hefty’ price for us foolish Penangites to pay. I had been to China to see first hand the wonders of bicycles & the creative use for personal travel & side-business… Read more »

ong eu soon

The following topic can be included in the discuss paper:
1) What are the challenges and future approaches for Penang ferry?
2) What are the challenges and future approaches for pedestrian and cycling?
3) What are the challenges and future approaches for public shared bicycle program?
4) How to provide transport need to the industrial zones (Penang FTZ, Perai and Butterworth Industrial Zones), the service industries (Georgetown innner city) and the tourism industries (north-east coastal zones) for enocomonic growth?

Richie Hee

You should have a short message to direct readers to your blog, instead of flooding your opinion here as not many people can appreciate your analysis/comment.

ong eu soon

Why not give us a discussion paper? Why not give us one whole year for public feedback and formulating the right policies and plan? Why the rush? Obsolete overtime? It is already obsolete before it is even ready Dr Lim Mah Hui! Stupid!

ong eu soon

If the lgE administration ever sincere in public participation and consultant, the consultant should prepare a discussion paper with the following contents: THE PURPOSE OF THIS DISCUSSION PAPER 1.1 What is the state Government’s vision for transport? 1.2 What is the aim of the Long Term Transport Master Plan? 5 1.3 What is the consultation process to help develop the Long Term Transport Master Plan? 1.4 How can I respond to this Discussion Paper? 2 PROGRESS TO DATE 2.1 What is the state Government doing to improve public transport? 2.2 What is the satate Government doing to improve the road system ?… Read more »

ong eu soon

Halcrow fails to set the public transport priorities! How road upgrade priorities going to complement public transit? How those public transport priorities will support housing and employment growth across the state and deliver a safer road network.? How it going to reduce travel times for motorists using the motorway and surrounding roads and support planned residential and employment growth in the state? Just build more roads? Especially the inner ring road? Only the dumb and dumber never learn from the fiasco of PGCC and Penang inner ring road episode which led to the downfall of KTK administration.

ong eu soon

Halcrow also fails in showing any land use strategies how it going to affect the master plan and public transport, allowing lgE administration freely messing around with the development density without any provision for public transit!

Halcrow also fails in using cyclying and pdestrians walkway to compliment public transit and has no ideas about public shared bicycles….

ong eu soon

What is more stunting is that there is no draft copy of master plan at all? The so called master plan is only in a conceptual stage with some preliminary suggestions which see the compromise of the consultant to the demand of lgE administration. On March 2010, soon after the state government announced the plan to have another transport master plan, I immediately voiced my concern over the short lead time given to prepare the so called master plan. (Read Penang Transport Plan A Pipedream? at This led to the unwarranted attack by Dr Lim Mah Hui ( ),… Read more »


of cos we cycle, come see us go up and down penang hill every weekend on our expensive bikes.

Gerakan K

More time given to LGE administration would be disastrous for Penang. What LGE does until now is just contradicting with federal government efforts. BN love and encourage state government to build more low cost housing, LGE just did the opposite. BN push for public transport, LGE push for more HIGHWAYs.

LGE memang NO GOOD.

Sze Tho

Yes, go and vote for BN. We shall see the results soon enough. No need to waste so much time here and annoy everybody.

Jonny T

Hey, under the past 40 years the Gerakan Gomen Penang’s solution to traffic is just to build more and more flyovers, highways, and roads. But I don’t blame you guys only… BN basically allowed our rail & bus systems to stagnate so more Protons could be sold.


that’s what we call “cycle at own risk” in penang island
no point to regret when unfortunate events have happened.
be safety alert on our own is not a guarantee unless there is a dedicated lane meant solely for manual bikers.

i love to cycle but dare not do so during my time in Penang. Now i have moved (anil calls it being “displaced”) to Sungai Petani i have all the joy and fun riding sunrise or sunset moments at my Taman with no worry of irresponsible motorists knocking me down.

call that blessing in disguise…… I love SP !


ya tuakee, you are fortunate to live in SP !!!

I love SP too !!!

Richie Hee

Singapore is developing dedicated bicycle park in the city.
Penang can certainly benchmark such practices.

Cyclists will have a dedicated bicycle path in front of the Marina Bay Sands resort by the first quarter of next year. The full trail, stretching 16km at the cost of $24.5 million, will be up by 2014; it will be developed in tandem with Marina Bay.


My main concern is the safety of cyclists as many motorists can care about the safety of others. Observe at pedestrian crossings. Even when the light is red, motorists esp motorcyclists do not stop if they see that they is no one crossing. Even if they stop, they will shoot off as soon as the lights go red for the pedestrians and the light is still red for the motorists

Ho Ho Ho



Deidcated buslanes? – PR Government which received kacang putih from Income tax contributed and UMNO Government bus operators . Rapid reap all the rewards and pocket them, everyone would like to operate such system.

semuanya OK kot

It has all been said before, but the moster of fascism will not be defeated. First, they bring “development” by way of flyovers, smoky buses, broken sidewalks, incentives to buy cars, etc. that turn habitable towns into urban ghettos. Next, they start new “townships” unnecessarily far away. Then come the big-ticket items: toll higways, syndicated cars, ever more expensive petrol and benign neglect of buses. Developing countries are “developing” at 6 to 10% GDP p.a. because multinationals get away with activities here that have become illegal in “developed” countries. Transport is only an incidental part of life but now an… Read more »


I’ve been to Bogota, and the system work very well, but the same consultants have been in Jakarta trying to work on easing their traffic woes and have not had the same success as it requires a coordinated commitment from multiple agencies. You can see the Trans Jakarta busses having good potential, but these was a lot of resistance. Perhaps Penang could speak to those consultants whom I believe also work with UN agencies? I understand the person who came up with the plan in Bogota also included implementing green belts along with the public transport solutions for a comprehensive… Read more »


Just look at UMNO running the show in KL. Mayor – UMNO, Federal Minister – UMNO, Federal Government – UMNO. Traffic and Public Transport – Nightmare since UMNO has been in power.


I like to cycle. When I was in Australia, I take my bicycle on the train to go to the city and then cycle to office. Yet I totally disagree with you when you try to compare Pg and Copenhagen ……. Anil not in our hot humid weather that makes you sweat like a pig. Secondly, I do not think you can make the majority of Pg people cycle, these are people who won’t even walk a few yards and they so pamper their children by not allowing them to strain their muscles when they dropped them off or pick… Read more »


Yes, weather’s nice and suitable for cycling and walking in Denmark or Germany as I have tried it with much enjoyment there but the hot and humid weather and terrible attitude of our drivers won’t make it enjoyable or safe for us here but the govt could try at least by implementing some safety rules and shade for cyclists.
As for the tunnel, I don’t have much objection to it if it makes the 1st & 2nd Pg Bridge operators wary of holding us Penangites to ransom.

anthony louis

Please people, I cycled home last Thursday .It was raining and 4c. If you want to cycle you just go ahead and do it. Super 95 is €1.67!! in Germany. Rain lah hot lah .stop bitching and just do it. Go out by the thousands and see what happens.


Either we choose to sweat a lot paying these dizzy petrol or sweat a lot by cycling for health & save some money.
The Straits of Hormuz will shut down anytime for lethal fireworks display in the sky & underwater!


1) For a start, equip Rapid buses with cycle racks for cyclist using bus+bicycles to work. 2) Plant more fast growing shady trees with dedicated cycle lanes (some will kau peh kau boh). 3) Near heavy traffic junctions, install mist fans for cyclists to cool down. 4) Reserve more bicycle parking spaces with locking brackets. 5) Gomen can give ‘encouragement’ RM500 for individual 1st purchase of a bicycle of own choice. Give another RM500 if after 6 months of cycling he/she loses 10lbs! 6) Create a pilot project of Rent-A-Bicycle (RAB) within George Town. Make it cheap to rent and… Read more »


Good idea but not realistic.

How many bicycles can Rapid bus carries? The rider must be king as the driver has to unload the bicycle if there are many bicycle stops along the way.

The only way is to have free loop buses for season pass holders like those in Auckland City. If one holds a tag pass, he can travel FOC any amount. Those w/o one only pays 50 cents. The loop bus runs past 11pm.


2 bus+bicycle commuters per Rapid Bus trip means:
2 less car drivers, 2 less cars, 2 less car space congestion
Less polution
Less traffic anger management
More healthy & cash in bank Penangites

Manageable calculation:
100 Rapid bus trips x 2 bus+bicycle commuters = 200 less cars.
In one day how many Rapid buses on the round trips, just figure out brother.
It’s been done & proven:


Very good calcs. 2 bicycles – 50 passengers. Takes 5 mintues to load and unload means 10 min wasted and for 2 bicycles means 20 mintues x 50 passengers = 100 min wasted by Penang per bus. Imagine for 100 trips per day, how many mintues one have to stand or sit waiting just for the bicycle. People will abandon riding Rapid buses and we go back to sqaure one taking private vehicles.


Another note:
Rapid Bus drivers are a patient lots. Rapid Bus is not like Penang Hill’s Speedy Gonzales Fridge Train.
I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike (in George Town).


Not sure the patient Rapid Penang any different than Rapid KL, where Rapid bus can wait at certain station for 5-10 minutes. Perhaps to counter their “rapid” image?


More Deepest Purple music but for clean & green Penang less highways if possible.

Enjoy my friends while the GE13 is on the highway then we’re all shall on stairway to heaven when the people vote for righteouness.