Wasteful pedestrian bridges not useful

CAP questions the Governments rationale behind its propensity for overhead pedestrian bridges. They are an encumbrance to most pedestrians and not a convenience as is the preferred belief. They are also a deplorable waste of public funds.

On Penang island alone there are at least 12 of these overhead bridges. They cost anything between RM750,000.00 (in 2005) to RM1 million or more to build today. A survey by CAP revealed that many were poorly maintained with unswept, waterlogged walkways strewn with rubbish, broken and leaky roofs, unlit or with broken lights as well as with cracked and poorly patched-up concrete steps which are lopsided, irregular in height and unsafe for users, especially the aged and handicapped.

More and more, less fortunate and physically disabled people and senior citizens are clamoring for the Government to recognize their status as equal citizens of the country and the difficulties faced in managing their daily lives without unnecessary obstacles. It is the Governments responsibility to provide utilities and amenities within the infrastructure that will allow our fellow citizens who are less unfortunate to use easily and safely. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The authorities seemed to have forgotten that the old and handicapped are also contributors to the progress of the country and deserve to be treated with equality and due respect. Just how an overhead pedestrian bridge is seen as a convenience to a senior citizen in poor health or a wheelchair bound invalid is beyond our understanding.

Indeed, a favoured builder of overhead pedestrian bridges in Penang even claims that they are involved in “the building of pedestrian bridges for the needy…in its endeavor to continue contributing back to the society whenever it deems fit.” It would be very interesting to find out just how they plan to help the needy by constructing bridges with flights of about 30 ascending and descending steps. The old, the pregnant and the handicapped definitely do not need this.

Interestingly, the same builder is primarily an advertiser and billboard manufacturer which comes as no surprise as their overhead pedestrian bridges are wrapped with billboards. They “provide outdoor advertising space in various sizes and formats ranging from street streamers to spectacular boards.” These billboards however, result in walkways of pedestrian bridges being covered on both sides with restricted visibility from the outside. With the poor or non-existent lighting of many of our pedestrian bridges, this would create ideal conditions for pedestrians to become victims of crime.

Just this week, a 50 year old woman became the victim of a snatch theft while crossing an overhead bridge in Singapore. Fortunately, she survived the mugging unhurt. The situation in Malaysia however is different. Earlier this month two pregnant women and their unborn babies died after being assaulted by snatch thieves. One of them was assaulted in broad daylight on a busy road and the other while on her way home from work.

With the crime rate in the country being what it is now, imagine how much easier it would be for snatch thieves to molest or assault a pregnant woman who is breathless and tired by the time she climbs 30 steps up to a dark and covered walkway of a pedestrian bridge.

Many of these bridges are not used by the majority of pedestrians simply because they are too much of a hassle and are unsafe, especially for women. It is common knowledge that many, including the aged, prefer to take their chances crossing busy roads while risking injury or death rather than trudge up a flight of stairs to face the unknown in a dark walkway where crime can be committed undisturbed. This only attests to the irrelevancy of these bridges.

Despite this, the Government has now announced the allocation of RM100 million for the construction of elevated walkways and skybridges – based on an outdated study originating in the 1970’s. CAP agrees with the Association for the Improvement of Mass-Transit (TRANSIT) that elevated walkways and skybridges are entirely unnecessary and that the idea is being used to justify unnecessary construction projects that are costly and energy intensive. These will not help solve the present problem of unutilized, expensive and poorly maintained pedestrian walkways but will instead create new problems.

The solution to all this is simple. Do away with overhead pedestrian bridges altogether and introduce road level pedestrian crossings with traffic lights instead. It would prove to be much more convenient to the rakyat from all walks of life – schoolchildren, the old and infirm, the pregnant and the handicapped who would find it truly convenient and safe.

The Government need only spend a fraction of their RM100 million pledge to implement pedestrian crossings at strategic locations. The surplus could then be channeled into similar projects that would really be advantageous to the rakyat.

CAP urges the Government to come to its senses and provide the rakyat with the basic amenities that the rakyat really needs instead of spending our tax money insensitively and wastefully.