Some cities in the world are a pleasure to walk in. Others, somewhat less so. Kuala Lumpur, with its energy-sapping climate, would be a tough place to be a pedestrian at the best of times. But combined with inadequate pavements, dangerous road crossings, and drivers who never, ever, stop for you, it can often be a complete nightmare to walk in the Malaysian capital.
It seems strangely appropriate therefore, that the National Museum should be virtually impossible to reach safely on foot, even though it is only a few hundred metres from KL Sentral. The “safest” route involves running across two lanes of traffic, walking along pavement-less roads and climbing over a fence, when a brief section of pavement ends abruptly with a metal barrier.
The main problem with being a pedestrian in KL is social attitudes. For Malaysians, the biggest marker of status is owning a car.
It is almost inconceivable that any Malaysian who could afford to buy their own vehicle would not do so. Equally, if they have a car, they use it, even for a journey from one end of a condo block to another. All this means that Malaysian motorists tend to regard pedestrians with a mixture of pity and contempt.
So when I first heard of a multi-million ringgit scheme to build 12km of new walkways in KL by the end of 2011, I was shocked to say the least. Why would the government wish to spend lots of money making life easier for pedestrians? Then I saw one of the first walkways to be completed — a bridge from KL Convention Centre to the Impiana Hotel — and began to understand what is going on.
At 70,000 ringgit a metre, this is one expensive bridge, particularly as it goes in completely the wrong direction for most pedestrians. I couldn’t possibly comment on suggestions that the whole scheme is a wheeze to award fat contracts to well-connected companies.
Cynicism aside, at least the idea of improving pedestrian access is a step in the right direction. Further steps to make walking less of a pain would be the removal (and detonation) of all illegally parked cars. Ditto for motorbikes that drive or park on footpaths.
Public information films explaining that it’s rude for motorists to speed up when they see a pedestrian trying to cross the road would be useful too. In the meantime though, if you are going to walk in KL, the best advice is to be careful out there!
By Pat Fama.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.