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Kuala Lumpur Car-Free Day first Sunday of the Month starting 2014

Urban design is the crucial ingredient that determines a city of life, and I always believe is the idea of taking off the cars from the street that encourages social integration, minimizing the carbon footprint by reducing unnecessary driving, and sounds economically viable as well when you add up all the intangible factors, happiness among of course. Earlier on I have written a piece on New York’s Highline that has truly lifted up the livability of the city by promoting public spaces.

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I have always looked forward for a Car Free Day in every city center, ever since observing the car free day in Beach Street, Penang, as i was studying in Penang for 3 years. The idea of Car Free Day is more than the absence of cars on the road, but a day of new communities gathering within the new public space reclaimed. I was trying to find more details on the recent announcement by KL Mayor Datuk Seri Ahmad Phesal Talib but nowhere to be seen, so far it is just reported by TheStar (28/12/2013) .

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In this news piece, it was reported that:

 Every first Sunday of the month, these roads would be “vehicle-free” from 7.30am until 9.30am starting on Jan 5, to give walkers, joggers, skateboarders, rollerbladers and cyclists, among others, a chance to use these stretches.

6km stretch are Jalan Raja Laut, Jalan Sultan Ismail, Jalan Ampang, Jalan P. Ramlee, Jalan Pinang, Jalan Raja Chulan, Jalan Imbi, and Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.

In a statement, Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) said the initiative was to promote a greener city and reduce global warming.

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Coming from a point of view of urban design enthusiast and daily cyclist. Here are my opinions in regards to some of the respondents from the news piece and also a personal experience of what public spaces means to the community and nation, and me.

  • On promoting green city and reducing global warming:

Yes, it helps, very little, however, and not worthy to be the main selling point of the initiative. If I am going to be the mayor I will try to avoid such statement, despite my support for reducing global warming, but selling the idea of car free day for the sake of reducing global warming will not work for the public, I will prefer to brand the car free day initiative as one to promote community bonding via space making, and increasing the livability of KL.

Promoting Car Free Day has little or none relation to encouraging people to bike to work. If it is intended to, we are sending a message that roads needs to be car free so people can bike to work, which will not happen and i will not prefer that to happen as well. The whole idea of biking to work is to raise the awareness of sharing the road. Copenhagen has half of its population bike to work but you don’t see the entire city center off limits for cars. Biking to work is just as simple as going on any pedaled power 2 wheels and roll to the office, not needing you once a month of gathering with hundreds of cyclist wandering around, i am more afraid that it is another occasion of showing off expensive flashy bikes and racing events. Is that green?

  • On possibility of Traffic Congestion:

I do not stay in the city center nor surrounding area to understand the traffic situation, but I am quite convinced that this wouldn’t affect the traffic as it is just a 2 hours closure per month, with 7:30am-9:30am on a Sunday. How many people would be out of their home as business and malls usually only open after 10?

However, to make judgment fair, the 6km road is just demarcated as closure with no further details whether on crucial intersection will be allowed for cars to pass through. Looking forward to more details in a few days time to the first ride on the 5/1/2014.

  • On affecting Business:

Some have commented that this will affect their business by disturbing tourist access to their shops. I think the mentality of the public when they heard on car free day, it gives them an impression of road closure to cars, transport shutdown, and no one coming to their shop. I am very convinced this is the other way around, simply by looking at how successful Beach street, Penang is.

You will be surprised to see how much more vibrant a street is when it is turned to a pedestrian/biking street instead of cars, people travel slower along the street and enjoying the streetscape and it actually enhances your business marketability opportunity. You will have a street that allows more people to walk through instead of cars clogging up your street limiting the ingress of people.

  • On affecting Tourism

Some said that this will stop tourist from getting around KL to shop. Well, the truth is most tourist will just depend on the monorail and by foot to get around the golden triangle to do their shopping. Not to mention that no one would want to get a cab in the city center that kills your pocket. Having a car-free street is, instead of an encouraging factor to most tourist.

This was seen in Beach street as well, the fact is that people sometimes love to photograph the streetscape of a city when they travel without the cars around. This is what I saw in Beach street when the olden days are truly back to alive again when bicycles and trishaws rule the car-free street with the heritage facade of the buildings behind. I believe the surrounding tourism value will be enhanced instead.

  • On concern of Snatch Theft

I can’t help but highlight again on the mentality that most Malaysians such as asking the authorities to do something like “safe pedestrian walkways” before this program is implemented as it is dangerous to walk or cycle around. To my understanding, even being in a stationary car is more dangerous than a moving bicycle these days with the possibility of getting kidnap with your own car.

I always advocate that the safest street is when the public reclaims and walk the street together. As long as there are more people on the street with plentiful of activities, I don’t see how CCTV or police guards can be more effective than this.

The Possibility of another Occupy Beach Street (Legally) Program in KL?

Nevertheless, what i am looking forward for is the possibility of such car-free street to be Beach street, a prime example of how car-free street has granted the public to make a place to be a space for all. The Penang municipal council MPPP declared the initiative since 11/12/2011 with 835 meters of street going for car-free every Sunday 7am to 5pm. One significant follow up on such initiative is the Occupy Beach Street (legally) program, where different zones of the car-free street are used for different activities, from sports to cultural to play to eco-friendly activities.

occupybeachstreetExtracted from their Facebook Page, it seems that the page has been extremely active with a lot of activities for every Sunday. The project is in conjunction with Penang Car Free Day and endorsed by the Penang State Government & Municipal Council of Penang Island/Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang (MPPP)

Objectives:
1. To promote Penang as an eventful tourist destination.
2. To uplift the business growth in Georgetown area.
3. To create a safe platform for the public to view the Heritage area.
4. To popularize the idea of healthy living.
5. To emphasise the importance of social interaction.
6. To create further awareness on the Eco Friendly Concept.
7. To introduce and promote local creation.

Project Occupy Beach Street initiatives temporarily close streets to automobile traffic so that people may use them for healthy and fun physical activities like walking, jogging, biking dancing and social activities. Project Occupy Beach Street divides the current “Car Free Day” into 4 unique Zones. Each different zone will be supported by different activities. Activity providers will encourage to brighten up the route and to help meet the many physical activities and community – building goals associated with Project Occupy Beach Street. In exchange for their participation, activity providers were able to publicize their organization and business with no cost or very low cost.

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Starting the good news with a Slight Pessimistic Tone

But again, the current information of 2 hours closure for the first sunday of every month is just too short to do any public space events like Beach Street. There shall be a good balance of road closure and the duration of doing so as well. At first sight, i personally think 6km is a little bit far stretched and hard to manage, unlike Beach Street which is less than 1km while it is closed for the entire day with plentiful of activities to stay on, i am doubtful if a space of 6km over 2 hours span is just right for anything to really happen.

We shall see. See you guys there for the first Sunday of the year on the very generous 6km route.