Cities are growing and becoming denser at exponential rates – A United Nations’ report, World Urbanization Prospects 2014 revealed that an astounding 66% of the world’s population will be living in urban areas by 2050. The global urban population topped 3.9 billion in 2014 – of which Asia accounts for 53%.
The increasing density of cities will pose challenges of livability – the toughest one being urban mobility. Generally defined as “the movement of people in an (urban) population, as from place to place”, mobility in Malaysia’s urban areas is a growing problem. Ask any urbanite, especially those living in the Klang Valley (KV) what their number one daily frustration is – topping the list is traffic congestion.
Easing Off the Gas – Much Ado about mobility
The daily jams in KV have been worsening steadily over the years – we have reached a point where leaving one’s home just 10 minutes later could result in an additional hour of commute. With the increasing population, can you imagine what our roads would look like in the coming years?
Even more worrying, the impact of traffic congestion goes beyond frustration and wasted time – it is also draining our wallets and the economy. World Bank’s 2015 Malaysia’s Economic Monitor revealed that lost hours and fuel for each person in Greater KL came to at least RM3,100 each year – which is more than the monthly local average salary of RM2,795; and the total cost of traffic in GKL in was estimated to be 1.1 – 2.2% of the country’s GDP in 2014.
Nevertheless, efforts are underway to improve urban mobility and in turn, improving the quality of life of city residents. There are a number of government initiatives under the 11th Malaysian plan to expand the modal share of public transport to 40% in the KV and GKL region, and 20% in other major Malaysian cities. These include long-awaited projects such as the extension of the Light Transit Rail (LRT) and the construction of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT).
Refining the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Solution
Enhancing transit infrastructure is just part of the solution to decrease the number of cars on roads and in promoting livability in cities. We will have to work on creating sustainable urban neighbourhoods which promotes the work, live and play concept – areas with vibrant streets and safe public spaces for commercial and social interaction.
Town planners all over the world have the answer to wean cities off their dependency on cars and the financial and environmental costs that come with them – transit-oriented developments (TOD).
TOD is the functional integration of land use and transit through the creation of compact, mixed-use communities around transit corridors or nodes. TOD brings together people, jobs, and services in a way that makes it an efficient, safe, convenient and attractive to travel on public transport in a sustainable way. But what is missing here?
Craig Czarny, Director of Urban Design at Hansen Partnership Australia highlighted that the there is a simple and easy way to improve the current approach to TOD projects – by promoting walkability, which is a measure of how friendly an area is to walking. Things are getting faster for commuters to travel by rail, but we still have problems at the last-mile destination, i.e after departing the transit (LRT/KTM) stations.
There is a symbiotic relationship between TOD and walkable destinations – you cannot have good transit if you cannot walk with ease when you arrive.
Promoting walkability: Putting People First
Walkability is a challenge in many urban neighbourhoods around the world, GKV being no exception. Automobile-dependent places actually eliminate mobility for non-drivers. Mobility for all exists in a place that accommodates not only drivers, but pedestrians, transit users and cyclists as well.
How well can commuters in GKV connect to popular destinations such as offices, schools and colleges, parks and shopping centres – using pathways, neighbourhood streets, bike lanes and other pedestrian-friendly infrastructure?
Sharing his own experience in moving around on foot in the KL city centre, Czarny says that few localities in KL are pedestrian friendly – there are few covered walkways leading off to transit stations, footpaths are narrow, there is conflict with oncoming traffic as well as the lack of proper lighting, signage and crossing signals at intersections.
Czarny therefore notes that successful places are people AND pedestrian friendly. The TOD concept has to adopt a new people-friendly mode, promoting a human scale, fine grain and pedestrian amenity – this is Pedestrian Oriented Design (POD).
Interconnection of Nodes is Key
POD relates to the design and presentation of public space and associated facilities to encourage walking and cycling linked to transit nodes. Interconnection of nodes is vital – the different forms of public transport have to be intimately connected in order for transit to be successful.
Also, improving the public realm experience around transit nodes will create a network of dense, walkable, interconnected neighbourhoods. This makes it possible to reduce private motorised vehicle trips and prioritize active transportation. The idea is to make work, home, leisure, commerce and school close enough to one another to make daily travel on foot or by bicycle viable, and travel by car unnecessary.
It is, therefore, essential to apply the principles of TOD and POD together in order to create a pedestrian realm that centers on walkability. This will mean creating room to walk comfortably, aesthetically pleasant surroundings, a perceived sense of safety from crime, presence of businesses/other community members and safe surrounding vehicle/pedestrian traffic.
As Czarny puts it, sometimes it’s just about making sure people can use streets and public transit with ease and without harm.
More Sustainable Cities
Many developments in cities have single-use environments that are large and alienating, with no human-scale community implicit in its urban fabric. Not only does POD serves to correct this form of auto-dependence, it also works to enhance public life and social interaction.
Czarny is a firm believer of how mobility breeds success of cities. An urban transport network which is seamlessly connected to public spaces will create vibrant, human-centered places of activity where people will be able to interact and connect with one another more. This, in turn, supports human life and habitat, builds civil society and creates a safe, welcoming public society.
A prime example of a pedestrian city is Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark. Its main street was transformed into a pedestrian thoroughfare 40 years ago, and city planners have taken numerous small steps to transform the city from a car-oriented place to a people-friendly one.
These include turning parking lots into public spaces, converting streets into pedestrian thoroughfares and promoting cycling as a major mode of transportation. Is it any wonder that the World Happiness Index 2016 ranked Denmark as the happiest country on Earth?
Well-connected communities are not only beneficial to citizens, but can also deliver economic value to businesses. It only makes sense that businesses flourish more in highly pedestrian-oriented neighbourhoods as there is more foot traffic.
As Malaysia gradually transforms into a high-income economy, we will require a new model to manage the challenges that our cities face. Doing ‘business as usual’ is not an option anymore. Improving urban transportation is essential to reducing the high costs of traffic, boosting economic growth and improving people’s lives.
Craig Czarny is a leading urban design and landscape architectural practitioner with over 28 years experience across design practice and research with an outstanding array of local and international project experience. Over the past 5 years, Czarny and his team from Hansen Partnership have been working closely with the World Bank to introduce TOD initiatives that can work better through a POD approach. One such project is the transport oriented redevelopment corridor around the proposed north-south tramway in central Surabaya, Indonesia.
This article was first published in the iProperty.com Malaysia November 2016 Magazine. Get your copy from selected news stands or view the magazine online for free at www.iproperty.com.my/magazine. Better yet, order a discounted subscription by putting in your details in the form below!