Monday, January 9, 2012

Malacca should do something about its jams

MALACCA city is bursting at the seams with visitors these days.

Come weekends, public holiday or school breaks, even Malaccans dread driving into the city centre for fear of being caught in jams.

Friends of mine who live near the tourist belts, who had once wished Malacca to be as vibrant as KL, now regret that their wish has been granted.

They miss the days when they could sleep in late on Sundays and not be awakened by the din, and not having to fight with outsiders for parking space at their doorstep.

If you are a regular visitor to Malacca, as I have been for over two decades, you will be able to tell if the streets in the city centre are congested or not before you even get there. If you arrive by the North South Expressway, the traffic situation at Ayer Keroh toll plaza is a good indicator.

If all payment booths are open and there are still long queues, you can bet that there will be congestion down town.

Just drive past the toll gates, then, observe traffic on the Ayer Keroh highway, the main thoroughfare leading into town.

If traffic here is slow moving and long queues are building up at the traffic lights, you should try to avoid driving into the city centre if you don't want to be caught in jams.

Malacca's traffic bane can be attributed to poorly timed traffic lights and narrow streets, I believe.

I have noticed that the waiting times at some junctions are exceptionally long, even though traffic from the side roads is sparse.

Examples are the Ayer Keroh Highway-Melaka International Trade Centre and the Jalan Tun Abdul Razak-Tesco junctions.

In town, jams usually start just before the Stadthuys at the two-lane road flanked by the old shop houses.

It continues into the tourist belt around the Clock Tower before the traffic is split by the Melaka Raya and Jonker Walk areas.

The jams in the city centre, however, are not caused by traffic lights but by drivers slowing down to avoid pedestrians who share the narrow streets made narrower by cars parked on one side.

In some areas, five-foot-ways are non-existent simply because of the way the quaint buildings were constructed during the days when horse carriages ruled the streets.

Even with most roads made into one-way streets to smoothen traffic flow, they were not built for today's huge vehicles such as MPVs, vans and tour buses.

With more and more tourist-centric businesses coming up in the city centre, more visitor traffic can be expected.

Heeren Street is fast turning into an arts enclave while Jonker Street has already established itself as a craft and antiques centre.

Some of the neighbouring streets are also becoming synonymous with backpackers as old houses there are turned into budget hotels.

Shouldn't the authorities consider introducing car-less days on weekends and public holidays, including certain hours of the day during school breaks?

Tourist spots in the city centre are not far from each other and there is no reason visitors to Malacca cannot park at the fringe of city and then take public transport into the city centre.

If trishaws are insufficient to meet the demand for transport, maybe electric trams can provide shuttle services as well.

Even cycling can be encouraged. Motorised traffic should be reduced to curb jams and pollution which is detrimental to the age-old buildings.

The town planners did right in moving the Government agencies from the city centre a decade ago.

Now, if only they could manage the jams before they drive away the tourists.

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