Monday, October 4, 2010

KL's unstoppable jams

WHAT does it take to reduce congestion on the roads of Kuala Lumpur? Even with the intelligent traffic management system, which we did not have 10 years ago, the traffic is still unmanageable on most days. Gridlocks threaten to descend on us whenever it rains or when some roads are closed for unannounced events.

With all the technology that is transforming the way we live, isn't it strange that we are still helpless when it comes to dealing with KL's jams?

More than a decade ago, there was a dispute on whether the city could manage without policemen taking over traffic control.

Someone had declared that the traffic lights were enough to do the job and the story went to town. The traffic controllers tested the theory.

Within hours, Kuala Lumpur was like a cat on a hot zinc roof. A point was proven: no technology is good enough when it comes to dealing with the unpredictability of the city's traffic.

After a couple of days of having "jam" for breakfast, no motorist wanted to relive the nightmare. The idea of intelligent traffic lights was put to rest.

But with the city all wired up today, could traffic flow be improved, especially with the electronic eyes monitoring our roads 24/7?

I am asking because if the traffic monitoring centres are to study all the video footages taken of congested areas, I am sure there is enough material to learn how to deal with our infamous jams.

For instance, along Jalan Bangsar in the mornings, the traffic police have effectively reduced the congestion heading towards the city by barricading the turn into Jalan Maarof.

Motorists heading from the city into Jalan Maarof have to make a U-turn at Jalan Pantai.

Previously, errant motorists often stopped in the yellow box and blocked the flow towards the city when the lights turned green.

In the evenings, however, the same diligence is not observed.

From the LRT station to the Jalan Travers-Brickfields junction, errant motorists are allowed to park along the yellow lined roadside in front of the shops. Buses, too, switch lanes at their drivers' whim, joined by other motorists.

Motorcyclists, meanwhile, weave in and out of the traffic from which only a seasoned Bangsar road user can emerge unscathed.

The same bad parking and driving habits are probably causing jams in other parts of the city at other times of the day.

A friend told me that Singapore managed its traffic well because the road users had been taught to respect the traffic laws and fear the consequences of breaking them.

Drivers there know that their movements are constantly being monitored and throwing caution to the wind will cause unnecessary hardship.

When I asked him if we could duplicate the effectiveness of Singapore's traffic management in Malaysia, the chap laughed. Singapore can do it, he says, because it is much smaller.

By the same comparison, can KL not be just as successful given the fact that our city proper is only a third the size of the Singapore?

Maybe our traffic police should not be so lenient with motorists and teach the recalcitrants to respect traffic laws and the rights of other road users.

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