The Consumers Association of Penang and Sahabat Alam Malaysia is opposing plans to revive the Penang Outer Ring Road.
We refer to the letter “Still no U-turn on PORR” by Cheong Yin Fan (Malaysiakini, October 14).
The abrasive tone of this reply is somewhat shocking considering the fact that it comes from an administration which prides itself on its democratic credentials and its openness to dialogue with civil society.
Perhaps we need to remind ourselves of Coleridge’s observations that vituperation is the product of weak minds. More to the point, it is certainly no substitute for persuasive arguments.
While we are prepared to ignore the torrent of abuse hurled at us in the letter, we feel compelled to respond to Cheong’s claim that “Lim [Guan Eng]” had been consistent in wanting a ring road to overcome traffic congestion but not at the original proposed route which did not take into account public congestion and views, especially the environmental impact”.
Unfortunately, this assertion misses the whole thrust of our criticism, which is directed not only against the PORR project but against the whole concept of a ring road. As we state in our letter:
“Let us be clear here of the real issue. The issue is not the terms imposed by the federal government for the project, but the project itself, which will result in more motorized traffic being brought on to the island. We reiterate that Penang does not need the PORR or another road project that is going to compromise sustainable options”.
There is no mystery about a ring road. It is essentially a main road which bypasses a town centre or congested area by streaming the traffic along a different route. Numerous studies (including the Penang Urban Transport Study commissioned by the State and conducted by Halcrow Consultants Sdn. Bhd.) have shown that, while it may offer temporary relief in the short run, it is no real solution to traffic congestion. There are two good reasons why.
Firstly, the traffic along a ring road has to go somewhere before and after it uses the ring road. The result is a re-creation of the congestion in some other area of the town.
Secondly, paradoxical as it sounds, the truth is new roads create new traffic. Once a new road is fully operational, it will invariably attract more traffic. While some of this may be traffic diverted from more congested roads, the rest will be, as studies all over the world have conclusively proved, new motorized traffic as a result of an increase in the use of cars by those frequenting the city. The classic study in this regard was the 1970s study of traffic in London, a city with a long experience of ring roads. In this study aptly entitled “Towns against traffic”, Stephen Plowden debunked the myth that new roads are the answer to traffic congestion.
In a word, Lim’s vision of “a ring road to overcome traffic congestion” is a chimera.
As for the rest of Cheong’s assertions in her letter, we will leave it to the public to judge whether our concerns and criticisms are justified.
S M Mohamed Idris
Consumers Association of Penang & Sahabat Alam Malaysia