Friday, November 9, 2018

These Cities are Built for Cars

I love exploring a city by foot. It's an excellent way to experience a city. But particularly in Penang and Malacca, I noticed something interesting: I'm the only one doing it. For example, in Malacca I took a walk from Jonker street to the Melaka Straights Mosque. It was less than an hour each way which is a not bad at all; an excellent way to get a sense of the city. But once I got off the main tourist area I really didn't see any other tourists the entire way.

What I did see were a bunch of buses, big and small dropping off the tourists.I think there's 2 main reasons for this.

The first is that there is a general culture of not walking. Many of the tourists are Chinese. I remember I was hiking in ZhangJiaJie which is the beautiful national park where Avatar was based off of. There were millions of Chinese tourists in that park that it felt like a single file line through the park. However, once I got to the more strenuous climbs, there were only foreigners like myself. It was comical to me to see that all the foreigners had chose to do this medium difficulty hike where the sea of Chinese tourists had passed (and the reward at the end was amazing)

Which leads to the second: these cities are made for cars, not people walking. I was having a discussion with friends (some local) in Penang and were talking about how terrible the traffic was and how hard it was to walk in the city. In Penang in many places there is no sidewalk. You just walk on the side of the street and hope a car doesn't clip you. There are so many cars, sometimes crossing the street gets tricky: And as there become more and more cars on the road it becomes harder to invest in public transporation and non-car infrastructure. "The Malaysian government doesn't want to invest in these things, they just want to sell more cars!". "It's ok"  I reply "This isn't a problem just in developing countries, even back at home in the San Francisco Bay Area we have the same problem." The infrastructure worked when there weren't as many cars are on the road. But now that there are a magnitude more cars on the road than what was originally planned for, we end up with severe traffic jams every day and not a good way to change things.

These 2 feed each other as well. If walking and biking is not an option at all then we lean towards cars, which leads to a car culture, which leads to more cars and more developing the city towards cars (more lanes, more parking lots).

Its sad for me because walking such a fun and healthy (and environmentally friendly) way to see the city. But as I suck in more fumes from from buses passing by, I might have to give it up.