Compared to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur is a very chaotic city. The most chaotic aspect so far has been attempting to walk anywhere. Traffic is obviously an unavoidable issue in many urban areas, but it appears that Kuala Lumpur has done little to control or simplify it. I would never, ever attempt to drive anywhere in Kuala Lumpur for many reasons. First, because driving on the left side side of the road is foreign to me, many drivers do not pay mind to traffic lights or directions, scooters and motorcycles are even less inclined to follow traffic rules, and I’m not really sure that there are actually any traffic rules here. To give you an idea, Kuala Lumpur’s roads look very similar to roads in downtown Pittsburgh in that they’re very confusing and disorganized. So imagine a place like downtown Pittsburgh, with driving on the opposite side of the road, an unfathomable amount of scooters and motorcycles, and very few traffic lights.
It’s funny to me that around Kuala Lumpur they have all of these campaigns for “city walk” asking people to abandon driving for walking, when in reality, it is extremely difficult to walk around the city. Ricky, Dr. Glass, and I took a walk to the Petronas Towers last night that might have been a 20 minute walk, but with the difficulty crossing the street, it was probably greater than 40 minutes of walking. There are cross walks in Kuala Lumpur, but cars do not pay any mind to those. You will notice no “stop here on red” lines, speed limit signs, or practical parking. Being a pedestrian in Kuala Lumpur means constantly facing obstructions like holes in the sidewalks (some that lead to the sewer and are missing the grates on top), cars commonly parked on sidewalks, and motorcyclists or scooter drivers coming towards you. The other day, I witnessed a man ticketing some cars parked on the street, but sidewalk parking does not seem to be a concern. Also, when walking back to the Dorsett Regency Hotel from the Badan Warisan yesterday, we took a pedestrian path, yet there was a motorcyclist coming towards us who was not only apathetic to the fact that he was heading into a path of pedestrians, but also texting at the same time.
Despite these obstacles and difficulties, Malaysians don’t really seem to mind. Attitudes here are more relaxed, and although it may take you 20 minutes or longer to find a break in the traffic long enough to cross a 3 lane road, it doesn’t seem to trouble the people who live and work here. I’ve seen many, many close calls for traffic accidents, but have yet to see an accident. The people of Malaysia have a certain pride in their country that is really genuine and admirable, but it’s clear they have a lot of work to do. For example, our tour guide Zol the other day told us they have installed many yellow textured lines in the sidewalks for blind pedestrians. That seems like an honorable improvement, but you’ll see many of these paths direct the blind into traffic areas where there are no crosswalks or traffic lights, and I’ve seen some paths with light poles situated right in the middle of them. I’m not sure why this is considered an improvement because they’re really leading the blind in the wrong direction.
As a pedestrian here, I find myself keeping closer to the hotel and my side of the street because crossing the street is such an issue. It’s crazy when there are a few lanes of traffic, but none of the lights are red at the same time so there is literally no time when it is safe to cross. There aren’t any speed limit signs here, so the cars appear to travel as fast as they please. And forget stepping out and assuming the cars will stop- they won’t. The people here are aware of this, as various people we have met here have mentioned these issues, but there doesn’t look to be anything in progress to help pedestrians in the future. Until then, I guess they’ll keep playing Frogger.