Highways,
is it the right way?

By: Fahmi Abdul Aziz | Editor: Sakina Mohamed | Designer: Ummul Syuhaida Othman

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KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 15 (Bernama) -- Kuala Lumpur hosts a vast network of highways that stretch from one end to another, promising unlimited access to its users and at times, truncated travel time.

Yet, with the increasing number of vehicles on the roads, these highways seem to do little in easing traffic.

This raises several questions: if highways are still subject to congestion, why do we keep constructing them? Why are commuters still neck deep in heavy traffic on the supposedly fastest route?

SOLVE ONE, SOLVE THE OTHER

Traffic and highway expert Ir. Adnan Zulkiple believes the problem is correlated with inefficiencies within the public transportation system.

“Traffic jams and bottlenecks continue to occur even on the expressways due to the imbalance in our transportation system, which leans too heavily towards private vehicle usage. This persists even when public transportation is available.

“Among the reasons why our public transportation is unpopular is because of the lack of comfortable pedestrian and bicycle lanes for users for the first and last mile,” he told Bernama in an interview. 

The first mile/last mile problem is a common challenge in public transportation systems. It refers to the first leg of the trip from the starting point, often the home or the workplace, to the public transport station and vice versa.

If a person has to spend considerable amount of energy, time and cost on public transportation due to poor interconnectivity, they would naturally become more inclined toward private transportation.

"Our highways, especially in the city, are still ineffective in solving urban traffic congestion issues because users have no equal or better alternatives than the public transportation system,” says Adnan, who is currently an associate professor at University Malaysia Pahang.

POOR CONNECTIVITY LEADS TO GRIDLOCKS 

The way expressways are constructed also plays a major role in determining its efficiency in ensuring smooth traffic. 

“The main requirement of these expressways is that they must be connected from one expressway to another, and the best choice is for them to be connected to the same category of road,” says Adnan.

For example, for a new expressway is to be constructed, it must start from an existing expressway. If it is built at one end, it must be connected to another one of its kind at the other end of the city. 

“The worst condition acceptable, is that it is connected to a road one class lower. If the road is a class U6 (expressways), then it can only be connected by dropping to one class lower which is a class U5.  However, this is not happening for the roads in the city,” he said. 

On U6 roads, cars are allowed to travel at a maximum speed of 90km/h. 

However, if it is connected to a much lower category such as U4 or U3, where there is a significant difference in travel speed, it may cause vehicles to slow down abruptly. 

This results in increased traffic volume, and ultimately, gridlocks. 

This means, to avoid gridlocks, all roads should only be connected with roads of the same or one category lower.

Design Standards

R6/U6
(Expressways)

Purpose

Highest geometric design for rural or urban areas.

Usage

Ideal for long trips, ensuring high-speed travel with comfort and safety. Applies to Rural and Urban Expressways.

Travelling Speed

High travelling speed of ≥ 90kph

R5/U5
(Highway, Primary Road)

Purpose

High geometric standard for long to intermediate trips.

Usage

Partial access control, suitable for Highways, Primary Roads, and Arterials.

Travelling Speed

High to medium travelling speed of ≥ 80kph

R4/U4
(Primary Road, Secondary Road)

Purpose

Medium geometric standard for intermediate trips.

Usage

Partial access control, suitable for Primary Roads, Secondary Roads, Minor Arterials, and Major Collectors.

Travelling Speed

Medium travelling speed of ≥ 70kph

R3/U3
(Secondary Road)

Purpose

Low geometric standard for local traffic.

Usage

Partial or no access control, suitable for Secondary Roads, Collectors, and Major Local Streets.

Travelling Speed

60kph

R2/U2
(Minor Roads)

Purpose

Lowest geometric standard for local traffic with low commercial volumes.

Usage

Applicable to Minor Roads and Local Streets.

Travelling Speed

50kph

R1/U1
(Chances of two way flow is low)

Purpose

Very low geometric standard for extremely low traffic.

Usage

Applied in situations with minimal two-way flow.

Travelling Speed

≤40kph

SPECIAL Standards

(Local access to low cost housing areas)

Standard
R1a

Application

Local access to restricted areas like microwave stations and security zones.

Standard
U1a

Application

Local access in low-cost housing areas.

R: Rural Roads               U: Urban Roads

BALANCING THE RATIO

With the number of existing expressways not making up for traffic congestion in urban areas like Kuala Lumpur, some would turn to the idea of constructing more highways to cater to the pouring volume of vehicles. 

However, building more highways might not be the best solution. 

Adnan, who is also an associate with environmental and traffic consultancy group Nilaimas Services, believes there should be a balance in the use of private vehicles and public transportation, besides improving the first mile and last mile conditions for users. 

"Balance the use of private vehicles and public transportation to achieve an appropriate ratio of 30:70 in urban areas with competitive public transportation systems.

“In addition to ensuring user comfort during the first mile and last mile, attractive fare discounts and incentives, as implemented by developed countries, will encourage the majority of commuters, who are workers, to choose public transportation over private vehicles,” he added.

POORER QUALITY OF LIFE

Dr Shahridan Faiez, ThinkCity Advisor. Credit: Fahmi Aziz

Meanwhile, ThinkCity advisor Dr Shahridan Faiez believes that having a commuting experience that is going from bad to worse will inevitably affect quality of life in the city.

(Think City is an impact organisation dedicated to making cities more liveable & sustainable.)

He told Bernama that this was likely because the country is being driven by a ‘hard infrastructure mindset’, where there is too much emphasis on roads and cars.

“In terms of transportation, we are stuck in a paradigm where we think only in terms of roads and cars, how to move from point A to point B as quickly as possible,” he said.

Policy makers need to reorganise themselves differently and adopt a more realistic mindset by taking into account how urban development has changed the city landscape and the way people live in it, he said.

“We are still stuck in the 1950s and 1960s mindset, when we were still a rural population. Back then, you needed to build roads to connect all these different remote areas but today we live in cities where it's so dense and we live so close to each other.

“Perhaps I can reconsider driving 1.5km if there was a way to do without it,” he said.

-- BERNAMA

Malaysian Road Categories

(based on Arahan Teknik Jalan 8/86 A Guide on Geometric Design of Roads)

Expressways

Definition

Divided Highways for

through traffic

Through traffic refers to vehicles or people just passing through an area without stopping there.

and serves long-distance travel with controlled access and

grade separations at intersections.

Grade separation is the physical separation of different levels or grades of traffic flow, such as roads or railways to avoid intersections at the same level. In simpler terms, it is creating different levels for roads so they don’t cross each other directly and makes traffic safer, reduces jams and helps things run smoothly.

Rural Areas

Main framework for national road transportation, ensuring fast travel.

Urban Areas

Essential for traffic flow in cities, complementing Rural Expressways.

Type of Access

Full Control

>
Highways

Role

Part of the national network, complementing Expressways.

Connections

Links federal and state capitals, and country entry/exit points.

Characteristics

Suitable for long to intermediate trips, with relatively high to medium speeds.

Type of Access

Partial Control

>
Primary Roads

Purpose

Major roads forming the core state transportation network.

Usage

Intermediate trip lengths at medium speeds.

Connectivity

Links state capitals, district capitals, or major towns.

Type of Access

Partial Control

>
Secondary Roads

Role

Major roads in district or regional areas.

Usage

Intermediate trips with partial access control.

Connections

Links major towns within districts or regional areas.

Type of Access

Partial Control

>
Minor Roads

Applicability

All roads in rural areas not covered above.

Functions

Basic network in rural zones, including special-purpose roads.

Usage

Local traffic with short trips, often with partial or no access control.

Type of Access

Partial Control or

>

Non-control

>
Collectors

Definition

Roads with partial access control connecting arterial and local roads.

Role

Serve specific neighborhoods, commercial, and industrial areas.

Type of Access

Partial Control

>
Local Streets

Purpose

Basic road network within neighborhoods.

Functions

Direct access to adjacent land, links to collector roads.

Emphasis

Discourages through traffic, primarily for short trips.