I welcome Roger Teoh’s comments on my article, “Road to Folly: Will Building More Roads Resolve Traffic Congestion” as a healthy debate over an issue of great importance.

His objections are as follows:

  1. Road building is necessary because of obsolete roads left over from British days. New roads are needed to connect areas that are inaccessible and not connected.
  2. Road building promotes economic growth and roads are used not only for personal travel but also by businesses.
  3. After this round of road building, state should not build any more roads, as should be the case in K.L. and Selangor
  4. Penang cannot be compared to Houston as Houston has low density and Penang high density; hence roads are needed to transport people

Let me reply to each of these main objections.

The British left Malaysia six decades ago and the “obsolete” roads they left are mainly in the city of George Town, not the suburbs. Yes, the roads in the city are narrow and not meant for high vehicular traffic and we have to learn to live with them, unless Teoh is advocating tearing down houses and uprooting trees in our heritage city. These city roads cannot, and should not, be expanded to four or six lanes highways bringing more traffic into the city. In fact, all forward-looking cities in Europe are seeking ways to control and limit the entry of cars into cities in favour of public transport. I am surprised Teoh is arguing for the reverse.

As for needing new roads to link communities in Penang island, there is hardly any community outside of George Town that is not accessible or connected, be it on the north, south or western shores of the island. Penang has a good network of roads that connect all major communities. In fact, Penang state has more roads on a per capita population basis than Singapore. Penang has 2200 km of roads for a population of 1.6 million versus Singapore with 3500 km for 5.5 million people.

Yes, we do not have multiple main arterial roads going to Tanjung Bungah, Air Itam and Fahlim. But as Teoh rightly pointed out, these areas are densely populated. And precisely because they are densely populated (4449 persons per sq km in northeast part of Penang island), public transport is the logical solution. One bus will take 30 to 40 cars off the roads; one tram with five carriages will take 200 cars off the roads. This is a no brainer. It is therefore illogical to advocate building more roads to cater to private cars as the solution.

Teoh then argues that roads are necessary for economic growth and business because they are used not only by private cars but also trucks and vans doing business. The Halcrow’s traffic surveys show that only 20% of road users are for business and 80% are by personal travellers. Even more revealing, an MBPP traffic survey showed that 70% to 80% of private cars are single occupancy, not dissimilar to Houston’s 90%. So building more roads caters mainly to single occupancy vehicles. He also says that roads are needed for buses to travel. I will fully support building segregated bus or tram lanes, not roads for more private cars.

Furthermore, the highways proposed such as the north coast pair road, the Gurney Wharf 8- lanes highway, the 6-lanes Pan Island Link etc. are not for connecting “inaccessible” communities; they are meant to encourage higher volume of vehicular traffic in densely populated areas.

Finally, he says and hopes that Penang state should stop building new roads once this round of road-building frenzy is over. This is akin to asking someone high on drugs to stop consuming more drugs. Klang valley built so many highways over the past 30 years and traffic congestion only got worse; and they have not stopped building more highways.

Penang should not to go down the same treacherous path.



Please click here to read Reply to Roger Teoh’s Road Building Frenzy


Please click here to read


Please click here to view why just building more roads doesn’t solve traffic congestion. In fact it only worsens traffic woes.

Please click here to view and vote for a ‘Better, Cheaper, Faster’ transport plan for Penang. Every vote counts!


August 25, 2016

By Dr Lim Mah Hui

Protecting George Town Heritage Status

Recently there have been many statements made over Penang Forum’s letter to the UNESCO in which I have been called a back-stabber, betrayer, and saboteur by my fellow city councilor, ADUNs, MPs, and no less than the Chief Minister of Penang. These are inflammatory accusations that do not reflect civilized discourse and disagreement. I shall, however, not stoop to such slanders. I am obliged to explain to my colleagues and members of the public my actions and the motives behind them.

First I like to remind my fellow councilors of the oath that each of us took:

“Saya mengaku bahawa saya sendiri menerima jawatan tersebut dan akan melaksanakan kewajipan2 jawatan ini dengan wajar dan jujur..” In carrying out that oath, we put aside party and organizational loyalties. We pledge our responsibility to serve the people of Penang. We are hence obligated at times to speak out and to make decisions for the good of Penang that may not please some political masters.

I have 5 major points to make:

  • Penang Forum wrote directly to UNESCO to request for an advisory mission and a heritage impact assessment over the State’s proposal to build elevated mega structure (LRT) in a site bordering the buffer zone of George Town’s heritage zone. The purpose is to prevent any action that may threaten its universal outstanding value. The letter is not a complaint or a request to delist George Town’s heritage status as is wrongly alleged. On the contrary, it is a letter to take proactive steps to avoid the possibility of delisting.

Penang Forum carried out its actions in accordance with the UNESCO guidelines.

Under Clause 172 of the World Heritage Operational Guideline,

“The World Heritage Committee invites the States Parties to the Convention to inform the Committee, through the Secretariat, of their intention to undertake or to authorise in an area protected under the Convention major restorations or new constructions which may affect the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. Notice should be given as soon as possible (for instance, before drafting basic documents for specific projects) and before making any decisions that would be difficult to reverse, so that the Committee may assist in seeking appropriate solutions to ensure that the Outstanding Universal Value of the property is fully preserved”.

In simple English it means relevant parties should inform the UNESCO of any INTENTION to undertake projects that may threaten the outstanding universal value of a designated heritage site as soon as possible and BEFORE major decisions are made. As such, agencies like GTWHI, the Penang State government and the MBPP should have carried out this responsibility in accordance with the above guideline. Why did they not do it?

The General Manager of GTWHI accused me of speculation, and the Penang State Exco Town and Country Planning and Housing Chairman accused me of premature action because he claimed there was no intention or decision made on the proposed LRT project. Yet it was widely reported in the press that the State Exco approved the PTMP project, and together with SRS Consortium, submitted a letter to SPAD seeking approval to build LRT.

Can they explain to the public why the State Exco’s approval and application to SPAD do not represent intention and decision?

3) The UNESCO encourages individuals and NGOs to write in directly (not through state agencies) to inform them of such impending plans and actions.  On its website, is stated:

  • The States Parties to the Convention should inform the Committee as soon as possible about threats to their sites. On the other hand, private individuals, non-governmental organizations, or other groups may also draw the Committee’s attention to existing threats. If the alert is justified and the problem serious enough, the Committee may consider including the site on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

It is because these state parties failed to inform UNESCO that Penang Forum felt duty bound to do it. My questions are why did GTWHI not do it? Why did the fellow ahli majlis who attacked me not perform his duty to inform UNESCO of possible risks to George Town’s heritage status?

4) What are the consequences of Penang Forum’s letter to UNESCO?

If Penang Forum’s letter has no merit, UNESCO will dismiss it as stated above; and that should be the end of the story.

If the Chief Minister and GTWHI are so confident the proposed transport hub lies outside the heritage zone and poses no risks to George Town heritage status, why are they talking about the risk of being delisted? Is this not a contradictory statement?

Clause 112 of the Operational Guideline says: “Effective management involves … actions to protect, conserve and present the nominated property. An integrated approach to planning and management is essential …This approach goes beyond the property to include any buffer zone(s), as well as the broader setting. Management of the broader setting is related to its role in supporting the Outstanding Universal Value.”

From the above it is clear the proposed LRT project may threaten George Town heritage status.

5) What are the options available to Penang if indeed the proposed LRT project could result in George Town losing its heritage status?

The first option is to ignore UNESCO, proceed with the project, and accept the delisting. This is what the city of Liverpool did when faced with the choice of preserving its heritage status or building high rise. This is a conscious and deliberate choice that Penang can take.

The second option is to comply with UNESCO’s requirements and build transport systems, such as BRT or tram, that do not threaten its heritage status as in Istanbul, or to move the transport hub to another area.

But what if the State had signed a legal agreement with SRS to build the LRT in Sia Boey? If it wants to comply with UNESCO’s conditions it has to amend the agreement and face liability of hefty compensation. This was what happened when Penang City Council compensated Boustead Holding Rm20 million for reducing its previously approved building height to comply with heritage requirements.

Should George Town be exposed to such risks again?

By informing UNESCO early, Penang Forum is helping the Council and the State avoid a repetition of such costly mistakes. Penang Forum therefore urges the State not to sign or commit itself before a UNESCO mission is completed.

Common sense tells us that it is projects and actions that threaten George Town’s outstanding universal value; not a simple request letter from Penang Forum to UNESCO.

Penang Forum’s proactive and preventive action should be welcomed and not vilified.

Thank you.



Address to the Full Council Meeting of MBPP
May 30, 2016
By Dr Lim Mah Hui

Towards A Sustainable, Liveable Community and City

Selamat pagi dan selamat sejahtera. Dato’ Bandar Patahiyah, Ir. Ang Aing Thye, Ahli2 Majlis, Pengarah2 dan Ketua2 Jabatan, Para Wartawan, tuan2 dan puan2. Saya akan bincang tentang komuniti lestari. Saya minta izin memberi ucapan dalam Bahasa Inggeris.

Today I wish to share with you a short video on Curitiba, a medium sized city of 2 million people in eastern Brazil that transformed itself into one of the most liveable in the world. In 2010 it was given the Global Sustainable City Award .

It was the effort of a mayor, Jamie Lerner, an architect by profession, who had a vision and the political will to implement that vision that was and still is against conventional belief that building more highways and bringing in more cars into the city was the path to “development”. He was ahead of his time. But he had the political will to implement it against great odds and today, he and Curitiba are recognized internationally as vanguards of sustainable development.

The video highlights a few main points.

He implemented radical plans for urban landuse that featured pedestrianization of streets, strict controls on urban sprawl and an affordable and efficient public transport system. He prioritized public transport over private cars and transformed car lanes into dedicated bus lanes. When he took office buses were carrying 20,000 passengers per day; today they carry more than 2 million per day and the bus system is one of the few in the world that is financially self-sustaining. There is only one price, no matter how far you travel, and you pay at the bus stop. It has been a model for other cities trying to achieve more sustainable movement of people and is used by 85% of people living in the city.

Second, he created parks and green spaces and today the city has 4 times more green space (52 square metres) per person than the recommended one despite its population tripling in the last 20 years. Much of the green space was achieved by using federal funds for flood control to build small dams across rivers, creating lakes and parks for the city population. There are 28 parks and wooded areas in Curitiba, creating a city landscape unlike any other in a developing city

He thought outside the box and believed in simplicity and living within his means. He used sheep to graze in the parks instead of using lawn mowers.

He put people before all else. He maintained solidarity with the people, not as rhetoric, and cutting ribbons here and there. As he said, one has to feel inside the daily problems of the people. Authority must not regard the public and civil society as enemies and meet them only in Appeals Board. Much better to engage with people, listen to their concerns and encourage genuine participation before rather than after the fact.

That is why I have asked for regular public forums to be organized between the public and the council. It was adopted as a KPI at our retreats but has not been implemented. I hope this can be taken up this year.

Please click here to view “Curitiba: Citi of Dreams (2006)”