Keep it safe for pedestrians

WE read recently about how a woman using a pedestrian crossing was killed because a motorcyclist ran a red light. Such a tragedy highlights a bigger issue in Malaysia – are pedestrians cared for while walking the streets?

And honestly, it is a question that needs to be given top priority by local councils, state governments and the federal government. The truth is, we have yet to reach a level of awareness where people are encouraged to walk, which many cities enforce in totality.

If one were to walk in Singapore, just stepping on a pedestrian crossing on any road would bring a car to a screeching halt. The same in London and Paris.

And yet, do the same in Kuala Lumpur, and you would probably end up getting yelled at, honked at, or in the worst-case scenario – be knocked down by a vehicle. In Selangor, the focus on giving priority to pedestrians is mixed.

Subang Jaya seems to have noticed the need for safety for pedestrians along Persiaran Jengka, which is the main road bordering SS15 and SS17. Its town council has put up multiple pedestrian crossings with traffic lights.

However, my home town of Shah Alam needs to do much more. On Persiaran Kayangan, the main artery that leads all the way to Klang, even schoolchildren end up playing chicken on the road while walking or cycling to and from school.

Of course, I'm not asking for schools to have crossing monitors on a pedestrian crossing with a traffic light as in Mont Kiara, but it should be a lot better.

Similarly, the Damansara area – particularly Damansara Perdana and Mutiara Damansara – seems like a death trap for pedestrians. The main roads for Damansara Perdana are Jalan PJU8/1 and Jalan PJU 8/8 – the latter which leads to and from The Curve and branches into the Mutiara Damansara housing area.

And sadly, while the area is small and walkable, there is less to no effort to improve facilities to allow people to walk around the area rather than drive. Perhaps local councils should take a look at these areas for upgrades, including building pedestrian crossings and traffic lights.

Yes, it will slow down traffic – it is supposed to.

But the main issue when it comes to pedestrians and creating a city friendly to walkers is attitude. As we saw in the tragic case in Penang, the reason a motorcyclist ran a red light and fatally knocked down a pedestrian was simply because "he was late for work".

How many times have we seen similar cases of total nonchalance for traffic laws leading to accidents and death?

Starting April 15, the government will be introducing Kejara – the Road Transport Department's (RTD) new demerit system for errant motorists. Sadly, it only covers two offences – speeding and running a red light. I suggest the authorities quickly add the offence of not slowing down at pedestrian crossings.

But more to the point, there needs to be harsher punishment and better enforcement, for what motorists see as "minor traffic laws" to break while driving to reach their destinations on time.

Local councils need to look at providing proper facilities for pedestrians. It isn't just painting a pedestrian crossing and leaving it at that. There is a need to monitor ease of access. Subsequently, the traffic police and RTD need to ensure that drivers pay attention to this – consider it an opportunity to meet your monthly summons issuance quota.

And let us go further up the chain, to the legislative branches for both state and federal levels. The lawmakers and state assembly representatives should take a walk around their area and see how easy or difficult it is to walk around.

Are there enough safe road crossings? Are there enough pavements and crossings for pupils to use without running the risk of getting run over? What about cyclists, the handicapped, the blind and those in wheelchairs?

Sure, it is easier to drive or hitch a ride. But if we want to create a greener society with less emissions, we need to encourage people to take to the streets – and not just for Bersih. Plus, it's also another way to save money in trying times.

As comedian Steven Wright says, everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: