While there’s been some improvement in recent years, Penang, particularly around the George Town area and surrounds, can best be described as ‘pedestrian hostile’.
In many other parts of the world, local governments are going to great lengths to encourage commuters to ditch the motor vehicle and instead adopt the more sustainable and indeed healthier options of walking and cycling.
Such incentives often include such things as widening pedestrian footpaths, introducing dedicated bicycle lanes, and minimising motor vehicle traffic in densely populated areas.
In Penang however, where the car and motorbike driver reign supreme, such initiatives would be considered anathema, yet ‘why,’ remains a mystery.
Consider for a moment, much denser populated cities in Thailand and Vietnam. There, you can cross the road assured of your own personal safety regardless of however chaotic the traffic may seem at the time.
The key is to walk slowly and allow the traffic to navigate around you as you leave the sidewalk and make your way to the other side.
In Penang however, rather than have the insight and intuition to avoid pedestrians, drivers seem hellbent on deliberately aiming for pedestrians, in a kind of homicidal frenzy with their car or motorbike as the weapon of choice.
You can forget about them slowing down or even attempting to allow you to pass as you make your way across the road.
No, in Penang, the maniac behind the wheel would rather intentionally mow you down, and then scold you for the damage you’ve done to their vehicle while you lie on the road bleeding to death.
Which brings me to the series of horizontal white lines you’ll occasionally see painted across busy Penang roads in the most random of places.
In other cities around the globe, these symbols are internationally recognised as “Pedestrian Crossings,” a distinctive device designed by those marvels behind the road code as a means to facilitate the safe transfer of pedestrians from one side of the road to the other.
In Penang, however, these symbols are considered ‘novelty concepts’ by the majority of drivers or perhaps carry some ulterior meaning such as “speed up,” “don’t stop at any cost,” or just “kill whoever walks here.”
Will this ever change? Perhaps.
Given that motorists (including some motorcyclists!) now occasionally stop for red lights, there’s some reason for optimism.
But it could take generational change.