On 5 February 2016, YB Chow Kong Yeow gave a press conference on the Penang Island City Council’s plans to do road widening along a section of Jln Masjid Negeri (previously Green Lane).
It was originally revealed that 33 trees may have to be removed (12 to be cut and 21 to be replanted elsewhere) but after objections from civil society, council has now reduced the affected trees to 16, according to a Star report on 20 February 2016.
There are two points to address here:
The first is whether adding a third lane along this short stretch (1.8km) along Jalan Masjid Negeri will solve the problem of traffic congestion.
The second is our state and council’s policy regarding tree preservation. Indeed, the motto and logo of the Penang state and local council is no less than a cleaner and greener state. Yet the practice deviates from the policy as is evidenced in the drastic deforestation of our hills in the name of “development”.
On the first point, Penang should not be stuck in the old paradigm that widening of roads will solve traffic congestion. It is a well known truism now among transportation experts globally that building more roads creates the demand for their usage. Within a short period of time, the proposed third lane will be saturated. What do we do then? Build a fourth lane?
Green Lane went from a two-lane to a four-lane and in some sections six lane road. Did we solve the problem? Simply tackling the supply side without addressing the demand side of the traffic equation is self-defeating. Unless the authorities are willing to implement some of the measures suggested in its own transport masterplan, done by Halcrow, such as higher parking charges, the imposition of fees for road use during peak hours and the encouragement of car pooling, the mere widening of roads would be an expensive and futile exercise.
Mr. Rajendran (MBPP engineer) stated that this is a temporary measure until the Air Itam bypass is completed. If this Air Itam bypass will “solve” the problem and divert traffic from Jalan Masjid Negeri, why the need to spend RM18m for a 1.8km lane (land acquisition plus construction costs) as an interim measure?
Is this a wise use of money? We have lived with this inconvenience and a couple of years will not make a difference. Mr. Rajendran said it is not “bearable”.
In fact the congestion on Jln Masjid heading south is more serious than the stretch going north. Also the real bottleneck heading north is actually the traffic light just before the Turf club, with traffic sometimes backing up all the way south from Scotland Road to Jalan Masjid Negeri.
On the second point, one of Penang’s attractions is the large number of tree-lined streets giving the city a green feeling and offering much-needed shade and cooling the air. “Apart from providing shade, trees cool cities through the process of transpiration, in which water is absorbed through the roots and pushed into the air via tiny pores in leaves. Think of them as leafy, misty fans for our cities” (Helen Brown, “Trees are a city’s air conditioners, so why are we pulling them out?”).
Many of Penang’s trees are old. Some were planted as early as the 1880s by Charles Curtis, the first curator of the Penang Botanical Gardens. As such, these trees are a natural heritage of Penang, much like the buildings of the Unesco world heritage site.
Many of Penang’s trees are not properly maintained and cared for, as evidenced by the indiscriminate bollarding of trees and the poor treatment of trees by contractors who do road widening. We call for the formulation of a masterplan for tree planting and management in the state and city.
Although the affected trees along Jln Masjid are not over 100 years old, they are over 30 years old, equivalent to one human generation. The JKR and MBPP should not take the cutting of trees so lightly. We ask that the authorities invite available experts from civil society to work with the aborist if a tree-replanting exercise is to be carried out along Jalan Masjid Negeri.
Penang Forum Steering Committee
21 February 2016