Does Penang have a more enlightened in its transport policy especially with regard to the prevailing car culture?
If you look at it, the Penang state transport master plan envisages that RM27bn will be needed to improve transport in the state.
BUT alarmingly, out of this RM27bn to be invested, RM17bn is projected for creating and improving roads while only RM10bn is projected for public transport (rail, trams, etc). How can?
Are we perpetuating a dependence on cars while attempting to create some minor improvements in public transport? What kind of model is that?
Well, this is what urban planner Leon Britton, who recently studied the transport model in Penang, thinks about it. I believe we are obviously at the stage somewhere between the Old Mobility and Mixed Minds models, unable to look beyond for fear of upsetting the status quo.
The less good news – let us call it bad news to be quite frank – is that transport policy in Penang is today firmly in the hands of the car culture. This is not surprising, but it is disappointing. The simple fact is that there is a well-known path of economic, social and transport development, which is shared by the majority of cities around the world, a vast majority of which in the still developing nations. There are basically three “models”.
Old Mobility: Cities that spend most of their public money on physical infrastructure, most of which favors private cars and motorised traffic, without any real thought that there may be a better way to go. (We call this the Old Mobility model, and incidentally there is not a city in history that has managed to jump this stage. We all did it at one point, so there is no shame there.).
Mixed Minds: In the second category are those cities and their leaders who are at least intellectually aware that the old “all-car” solutions are not the best, the most efficient, the fairest way to organize their cities, but who nonetheless continue to commit the majority of public money to support, de facto, the old mobility model: more highways, tunnels, bridges, road-widening, technologies that facilitate more traffic and higher speeds. Leadership in these cities are willing to allocate some funds to help public transport and a bit of cycling, pedestrian improvements here and there, and even shared transport. But if we audit their actual expenses we will see that despite the rhetoric the money is still firmly behind the car culture.
The New Mobility Agenda: In the third and last category we find the leading cities that are taking advantage of technology and new ways of recognizing their cities, and thus concentrate their efforts on severely reducing the role of the private car and favoring more space-efficient cities and transportation arrangements. The leaders in this last respect are quite definitely the European cities who are showing the way, though since 1975 your perspicacious neighbors down the road in Singapore have also figured it out for themselves. (But their forty years old model should not necessarily be your model. You can do better.)
Penang and its political leadership are today firmly in the hands of the car culture, despite the rhetoric to the contrary. Which brings us to my second and more optimistic conclusion after more than a year of looking at, listening to and analyzing what you are doing and planning to do.
The Role of Civil Society
It is my firm belief that the lead to sustainable transport and a sustainable city in Penang at this point lies just about entirely in the hands of Civil Society – and it is a wonderful thing that Penang has such strong tradition in this respect. But there is a slight problem.
While the concerns of the various groups are of course very diverse, as they should be, and it appears to me that there is still great difficulty in getting them to speak on the issues fair and better mobility in Penang with a common voice. If you turn to the page http://sustainablepenang.wordpress.com/partners-sponsors/ you will see a listing of some two dozen organizations that are more or less directly concerned with bringing sustainable transport to Penang. They need somehow to be brought together to make their voices heard as one in order to take an active leadership role. These barriers need to be broken down, and given the intelligence, commitment and energy of these groups this should be entirely doable. But we need to find the way to bring them together.
And in the meantime, the various lobbies, financial interests and alliances that have intentions quite other than the common interests continue to prove themselves a continuing menace to the entire concept of sustainable development and social justice. In short, it is a hard slog for democracy. But I am hopeful that Civil Society will overcome these challenges in Penang. In time, but hopefully soon.
Check out his full post and his Sustainable Penang blog here.