Sustainable Penang: Final Phase 1 Report

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Phase 1 Report &  Work Program for 2014

A Public Enquiry by Think City & EcoPlan International

Eric Britton, 21 November 2013

The Project in Brief

From 21 Sept. to 8 Oct. in Penang, a three-week long civil society program consisting of more than thirty site visits, collaborative dialogues, symposia, master classes, workshops and supporting public events, with the goal of creating a stronger base of local support in favor of a more sustainable transport system to better serve the people of George Town and Penang .  Hosted by Think City and numerous local partners, in cooperation with EcoPlan International.

Main events:

  • World Car Free Day celebration and special events (Sunday 22 September)
  • Sustainable Penang Inaugural University Lecture (20:00-22:00, 24 Sept. at Universiti Sains Malaysia)
  • Focus Group Dialogues (Mornings from 23 Sept. Caring Society Complex. Contact us for schedule)
  • Municipal Council Peer Dialogues (MPSP on 1 Oct. and MPPP on 2 Oct. 08:00 to 13:00)
  • Symposium on State of the Environment in Penang (3 Oct.. 08:30 on, Caring Society Complex)
  • USM University Master Class series  (30 Sept. – 3 Oct. 17:00-19:00 at Universiti Sains Malaysia)
  • Media presentations and interviews (print and electronic, including blogs and social media)
  • Dialogue: 2015 Penang Conference on Implementing Sustainable Transport in Smaller Asian Cities
  • State of Sustainable Penang Message (Saturday, 5 October. Municipal Park Amphitheater)

Hosts and Sponsors:

Sustainable Penang  is led jointly by Dato’ (Dr.) Anwar Fazal, Chairman of the Board of Think City, Laureate of the Right Livelihood Award and Director, Right Livelihood College, Universiti Sains Malaysia, with Prof. Eric Britton, Managing Director of EcoPlan International, Founder of World Car Free Days, Founding Editor of World Streets, Laureate of the Stockholm Environment Prize with Mayor Enrique Peñalosa of Bogotá, Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Development at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion. The project is supported by the Center for Global Sustainability Studies (CGSS), Malaysia, numerous state and local organizations, NGOs, universities, and by a panel of members of the International Advisory Board of the New Mobility Agenda.

Supporting documentation:  +

malaysia penang city scape 2

The Report in Brief

A collaborative brainstorming document prepared by the author to summarize a number of the outstanding points that came up during the course of three weeks of collaboration in Penang with numerous public meetings, focus groups, seminars and other associated events, the objective of which was to see of working together we could identify a certain number of “pattern breaking” measures and projects that might be considered for implementation in Penang over the coming year.

After a very short graphic introduction, the report is divided into three main sections,.  Chapter 2 makes a brief presentation of the structure and orientation of the New Mobility Agenda — a collaborative strategy for bringing in new ideas and approaches for improving mobility in cities and in the surrounding lower density areas. Readers will appreciate that this is a very demanding agenda because it requires not only that policymakers pick out one or several of the proposed strategic pillars, but that they sign up with the entire structure. Without such firm underpinnings, policy risks most certainly to be inconsistent and to lack the necessary continuity for performing the global system.

The third key chapter sets out a series of short descriptions of approximately 40 project ideas or concepts that came up over the course of the discussions with the participating organizations and individuals representing both the public sector and various branches of civil society and the media. These descriptions are for now very brief and are not intended as even pre-planning studies. Rather they are intended to open up discussions of thinking about the selected topics which came out of the focus group meetings and meetings with key government groups over the course of the three weeks. The hope is that some of these ideas – you may choose to think of them as equivalent of bookmarks in your browser – will in the months immediately ahead be picked up and adopted by the principle implementing agencies and groups, and supported by civil society in order to develop a new trend for transport and land use in Penang.

The final section is given over to absolutely vital issues of follow-up and implementation, the critical next step in this process. The implementation phase is to be led in the first instance by the state authority,  the Penang Transport Council and  the two Municipal Councils who have already initiated some new initiatives which break with the old patterns and choices that favored private car traffic above all. There are better ways of organizing transportation in Penang.

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Executive Summary

 This report and the several months of planning and effort behind it is intended as a brainstorming exercise. At a time when public policy in the transportation sector needs new ideas and new approaches, we have attempted to scan interesting practices worldwide in order to draw them to attention to all of those concerned with these issues in Penang. Report is thus not a how to do manual but an encouragement and stimulus for new ideas and new thinking for Penang.

The underlying reality in 2013 is this: Penang’s transportation, mobility and public space conditions in 2015 leave a great deal to be desired.  With painfully few exceptions they are mediocre at best but for the most part entirely unsatisfactory, unfairly and underperforming. And there is no good reason that it has to be like that..

The grinding situation is one of every day: more cars, more traffic, more congestion, more pollution, more lost time, more anger, more noise, more isolation, more accidents, and fewer good affordable options for getting around for the vast majority of the population. The system is inefficient, and worse it is unjust. But there is worse yet: year after year they are continuing to deteriorate steadily, almost visibly.  The citizens and taxpayers of Penang deserve better.

One bit of good news in all this is that there is virtually nothing that is particularly original about the circumstances of inattention, inconsistency and decay; these are the same basic patterns and conditions to be found in the vast majority of all larger cities across the developing world. Perhaps surprisingly this can be seen as good news: we thus know what the problems are and we know how to resolve them. There are very few unknowns. Many other cities and regions have faced them in the past and have figured out how to make this transition.  So there is no reason why the same cannot be done in Penang. And one day it will. The only question is when?

There are long list of reasons why the state of Penang needs to turn the situation around and without undue delay. In the 21st century cities compete and any city which does not offer a pleasant and efficient place to live and work is going to lose out in the international competition. The best and brightest young people will leave such a place and it cannot expect to compete for new investments, jobs and the creativity of the brightest and best in the international arena.

So for all these reasons it is time for those driving transport policy and practice  in Penang to start to look hard at what can be done to make it not only a great place to live and work but also a vigorous competitor for the best. Fortunately Penang has a number of real advantages, potential and eventual tools and measures that you can put to work for this reconversion effort.

The good news is that the State has in hand virtually everything needed in order to start to initiate and advance a major sustainable transportation reform. You have the money, the technical capacities, the institutional framework, the autonomy and the ideas and examples needed to make major improvements, many at very low cost and well within the 2015 time horizon of the Transport Master Plan. The Master Plan sets out a number of institutional and technical reforms needed to improve the performance of all aspects of transport in the state efficiency, environment, economy, resources, energy, and quality of life for all. Treat this is your solid point of departure.

You have in place a solid institutional structure, led by the State, supported by the Penang Transport Council, and perhaps above all to be led by the dynamic Municipal Councils on the island (MPPP) and the mainland (MPSP). All of which supported by one of the most well developed network of civil society and public interest groups in all of Asia.  These are huge assets for your transformational program.

You have sufficient money under your control to make a virtually all of the improvements which are necessary over the course of the next two years, if you concentrate above all on the management of the transportation assets you already have in place — as opposed to doing as in the past, namely spending large sums on new construction projects to solve your problems. The priority at this point is not to expand supply of inefficiently used infrastructure, but rather to manage and use it better. The Transport Master Plan provides a number of useful guidelines for how to do this.

With the collaboration of my colleagues at Think City and all those who have so generously given of their time and ideas over these last weeks, and particularly all those participating in the Focus Groups, we have come up with an initial brainstorming list of more than thirty specific project initiatives which can be done quickly, and which are entirely under the control of state and local governments. As author I very much hope that you will look at them, and in time through your suggestions and recommendations help us to expand and improve this open resource  inventory.

If we think of the world cities today as being roughly divided into “leading” and “lagging”, the truth is that Penang at this point is solidly implanted in the latter category. But so too, and not all that many years ago, were many of the leading cities that today are showing the way. Most of them not all that many years ago were also victims of inconsistent, unthought-out, unimaginative, selfish, undemocratic and inefficient transportation policies themselves. The lesson is that you do not wake up in the morning and find yourself suddenly having become a “leading city “in this respect. You have to roll up your sleeves and get to work with an entirely different set of values and goals.

But that to occur there needed to be a vision, a strategy, plans and actions of which individually and collectively started to change the shape of the city and the quality of everyday life for the people who live and work there but also for visitors who come because they are eager to see and be in a situation in which an agreeable and sustainable city environment has been achieved

The key to the success of this collaborative project will be in the follow-up. What you see here is but a first cut of ideas and projects. But it will be in the follow-up, the adoption of these ideas by specific groups and agencies who can turn them into reality that the difference will be made.

In closing I can tell you one thing for sure. And that is that Penang will one day make all the necessary reforms that today are so badly needed. You will get to it, sooner or later, because that is what the world trend is. So it is really a question of time. If you have the vision, the strategy, the energy and the leadership you can advance the agenda by a decade in just the next year or two of careful applied work. That will be your choice — and no one can do it but you. .

Eric Britton, Lyon. 21 November 2013

malaysia penang motor cycles at stop light

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements  9

The Project in Brief  6

Executive Summary  7

1.     Introduction: Three Brainstorming Questions  10

1.1       Do we have a problem?  10

1.2  If so why are we not solving it?  11

1.3       What do we do need to do to make it work?  12

2.     Toward a New Mobility Agenda for Penang  14

2.1       The New Mobility Agenda in brief  14

2.2       Ready for change  15

2.3       Say good-bye to Old Mobility  15

2.4       The role of the car in the city  16

2.5       Managing the transition  17

Strategy 1. Reduce traffic radically. 18

Strategy 2. Extend the range, quality and degree of integration of non-car mobility services available to all: 18

Strategy 3. Tighten time frame for action  18

Strategy 4. Design and Deliver for the Transportation Majority  18

Strategy 5. Take advantage of frugal economics: 19

Strategy 6. Build on what we have: 19

Strategy 7. Do not build yourself into a corner  19

Strategy 8. Design and deploy packages of measures  20

Strategy 9. Integrate the car into the new mobility pattern  20

Strategy 10. Full speed ahead with new technology  20

Strategy 11. Technology agnostics/Performance advocates  20

Strategy 12. Play the “infrastructure joker”  21

Strategy 13. Design for women  21

Strategy 14. Outreach and Partnerships  21

Strategy 15. Environment/Climate Emergency leading the way  21

Strategy 16. Lead by Example: 22

Strategy 17. But above all . . . pick winners!  22

3.     New Mobility Transition Projects – 2014  24

3.1       Building on a Firm Base  25


3.2       UNESCO World Heritage Site  28

3.3       Penang Car Free Days  29

3.4       Local consultancy and advisory capability  29

3.5       Barrier Free George Town  30

3.6       Sustainable Penang: Cooperative University program    30

3.7       The Psychopathology of the Owner/Driver  31

3.8       The Heat  31

3.9       Placemaking in Penang  32

3.10     Blog of Blogs  32

–       – > PUBLIC TRANSPORT  33

3.11     Accessible public transport  33

3.12     Tour Bus Restrictions in Heritage Site  33

3.13     On-Board Bus Announcements of Next Stop  34

3.14     CAT Shuttle Bus Service Improvements  34

3.15     BRT Strategies  34

3.16     Security Audits  35


3.17     Walkable City Projects  36

3.18     Biking Penang  37

3.19     Trishaw program    37

3.20     Contraflow Cycling Lanes  38

3.21     Pedestrian and Cycling Crossings: Democratic Practices  38

3.22     Walk to School 39

– – >  NEW MOBILITY Initiatives  40

3.23     More Mobility for Rural Areas  40

3.24     Park + Ride  41

3.25     Taxi Industry  42

3.26     Strategic support for motorized two wheelers  42

3.27     University new mobility programs  42

3.28     Carsharing in Penang  43

3.29     A strategic parking program for Penang  43

3.30     Gender Parity – starting with Penang Transport Council 44

3.31     City within the City (Pulau Tikus) 44

3.32     Leading by Example  45

4.     Next Steps  47

4.1       Implementation  47

4.2       Reorganization  48

4.2.1     Gain greater autonomy  48

4.2.2     Integrating transportation and city planning  49

4.2.3     Improving Balance of the transportation modes  49

4.3       The 2014 Oversight Function  50

4.4       Smaller cities partnership project: 2014-2015  50

4.5       2015 international Conference: 51

4.6       And in conclusion  52

4.7       PS. Did Anyone Mention Climate?  54

malaysia penang motor bikes


I am grateful to have this chance to express my sincere thanks to the many Penangites and groups who helped me in this project since the planning effort got underway in June. There are far too many to name here, so I shall have to be satisfied with these few words of appreciation.  What I can hope for is that something useful will come out of all this hard work that will make a contribution to their beautiful city and state.  What better way to say thank you.

The person most directly responsible for this mission was Dato’  Professor Anwar Fazal in his role as Chair of Think City, Laureate of the Right Livelihood Award, and leading figure in the Civil Society movement in Asia.  He guided me from the beginning in many ways, and ensured that I understood the long and interesting story of past efforts to deal with these changes in Penang over the last two decades. As Newton said about his debt to the past, I was standing on the shoulders of giants.  I believe that his most creative advice was to advise me to avoid being unnecessarily critical, but at the same time honest in my appreciation of the weaker points of the present situation.  It is important, he said, “but Eric I don’t want you to lose track of the fact that it is the positive recommendations that are going to ensure there will be follow-up and continuity to all the work that is being done while you are here.” I have tried hard to follow his wise counsel.

I was cordially received on a number of occasions by officials and their staffs both at the level of the State of Penang and the two Municipal councils which are leading the way when it comes to implementation of many of the ideas that are outlined here.  An important part of my education was supplied by meetings with members of the Penang transport Council, and in particular their director Mr. Thean-heng Lim who was especially generous with his time and knowledge from the initial stages of the planning efforts.

The staff of Think City were also extremely generous with their time and support, especially Daniel Lim and Kartina Mohamed.  They put a lot of work and brains into the project day after day, and were indeed the turntable of the entire mission, without whose support it would never have taken place.

Of particular importance was the active participation of all those who agree to get involved in the Focus Group sessions that continued on an almost daily basis through the entire three weeks in Penang.  These resources of education for the author and great opportunities to gather from them their views on problems, priorities and their proposals for actions and measures many of which appear in Chapter 3 of this report.

Finally, let me in closing name one name which is that of Mr. H. T. Khor who was my guide and instructor from start to finish. I could not have asked for a better and more generous working partner.

 Eric Britton, Lyon, 21 November 2013

– – > Review copies of the latest cut of the full report are freely available from EcoPlan, by contacting the author at

Mind Map Poster Penang 2aug13

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