While many Petaling Jaya residents don’t want an elevated highway through their community, they are still keen to drive. This is Part 2; read Part 1 for an interactive trip along the PJD highway.
TRAFFIC jams are a painful part of life in the Klang Valley. The Malaysian way to ease traffic, however, appears to focus largely on mega infrastructure: huge, tolled highways that cost hundreds of millions of ringgit to build.
In 2022 alone, two elevated highways were completed: the Damansara-Shah Alam Elevated Highway (DASH) and the first phase of the Sungai Besi-Ulu Kelang Elevated Highway (SUKE).
And the government is evaluating the proposal of yet another elevated highway: the Petaling Jaya Dispersal Link Expressway (PJD). However, unlike the earlier highways, the PJD would pass through some of the most crowded residential and commercial areas in Petaling Jaya.
Concerned residents and businesses are protesting the PJD. They hang banners, hold streetside protests, and are running an online petition. Protesters argue that instead of solving traffic problems, the PJD would worsen pollution and erode green spaces and property value.
However, outside of these protests, Macaranga’s reporting suggests that locals have more nuanced opinions of the PJD which are influenced by their financial interests and perception of local traffic problems.
Furthermore, while traffic and urban planning experts argue for improving public transport, residents suggest improving current highways or building new ones elsewhere instead.
The PJD would connect Bandar Utama in Petaling Jaya and Bandar Kinrara 2 in Puchong. The developer’s website states that this 25.4 km highway would be 90% elevated with ramps feeding traffic into and out of the other highways.
These highways are often congested at peak hours. The developer has said that the PJD would draw traffic away from these highways, thereby benefiting locals and commuters using those highways.
But the communities along the PJD question such claims. David Yoong is a Petaling Jaya resident who has attended 5 focused group discussions between resident associations and the developer. In these meetings, residents had told the developer that “a cost-benefit analysis should involve the pain and suffering of the people who would be displaced and the drop in property value (of houses and shops),” says Yoong.
Did the developer accept their suggestions? Yoong laughed. “No.”
The developer did not respond to Macaranga’s request for interviews.
For this article, Macaranga surveyed 42 random locals along the proposed PJD route. Survey results suggest that locals who own property or run businesses there are more likely to disagree with the PJD than those who do not. This aligns with Yoong’s comments.
Whether locals support the PJD also depends on how they perceive local traffic problems and the new highway’s promise as a solution.
In Macaranga’s survey, most of the respondents who believed the PJD could improve local traffic also supported the PJD. On the other hand, of the respondents who thought the PJD would not improve local traffic, none supported the new highway.
So, what are the merits of the PJD to reduce traffic in Petaling Jaya? So far, there appears to be more questions and doubts than affirmation.
Aziff Azuddin is a data analyst who has aggregated and visualised peak-hour congestion data along the PJD Link’s proposed alignment based on historical traffic data obtained from Google.
“From my observation, congestion typically happens in interchanges when cars are trying to enter or exit the highway,” he says. From the data gathered, the PJD exits would feed traffic into already congested roads. “You can imagine how the congestion builds up from a combination of factors like lane-changing and the reduction of four or five lanes down to two or one.”
While locals spoke strongly about how highways affect traffic and businesses, they had less to say about the environmental impact. Most highlighted noise and dust pollution; only a few noted increased carbon emissions from higher traffic and the destruction of existing green spaces.
However, nobody mentioned the highway’s large and immediate contribution to carbon emissions: the cement.
Producing cement involves a chemical reaction that produces carbon dioxide as a by-product. The process also requires a lot of energy. In 2022, cement production generated nearly 2.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide in 2022, nearly 7.2% of total global carbon emissions.
If the cement for the PJD is made in Malaysia, it would likely be done using fossil fuels and further increase the country’s carbon emissions. That would impede Malaysia’s ambition to achieve net-zero carbon emission by 2050.
And then there will be the carbon emission from vehicles. Recently, NGO RimbaWatch estimated that vehicles using the PJD would add 478,968 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.
Nabil Ersyad, a member of public transport advocacy group Transit Malaysia, notes that this finding was not surprising. “The sole purpose of highways is to make it easier for people to drive,” he says. “The easier it is to drive, the more likely that people will want to drive, which just adds to the overall carbon emissions.”
Notably, a new highway would work against the Selangor government’s efforts to cut carbon emission in the state. In the Selangor Plan (2021-2025), the government wants to focus on “increasing public transport and reducing reliance on private transportation”. It adds that “addressing climate action will be important for both investment attraction and the Rakyat.”
Public transport poser
If not the PJD, what else could be done to reduce traffic congestion in Petaling Jaya?
“The only real way to reduce traffic is to provide alternative transportation options such as busses, rail and cycling,” says Nabil, who had participated in a streetside protest against the PJD.
This is echoed by Aziff, who highlights that there have been proposals by members of the public for a metro line to link Damansara and Petaling Jaya to Puchong. “It certainly tells us that there’s an appetite for more sustainable forms of connectivity.”
However, Macaranga has discovered that many locals offered alternative solutions that centred around cars and driving: expand existing highways, reduce traffic lights, carpooling, alternate driving hours, or shift the highway elsewhere. When asked if public transport could help, many gave a less enthusiastic nod.
“The reluctance in the adoption of public transport as a viable alternative for Malaysians is often thought of as a quality-of-service issue,” says Cha-Ly Koh, founder of city data analytics company Urbanmetry. “The complaint is largely focused on the low level of service, inconvenience, hot weather, time and destinations.”
These complaints are not unfounded. Multiple instances of LRT disruptions in the Klang Valley this year had left many angry commuters stranded.
Not in my backyard
Despite this, Koh elaborates that there is a more complex issue underlying this reluctance in converting the public to use public transport—the perception of social class ingrained in private car ownership. With the automotive industry growing rapidly in the 1970s, personal car ownership was sold as a desirable status symbol to Malaysians to boost domestic demand and boost local car production.
“[Owning a car is] perceived by the public as a way for them to signal their status in society, from ownership to the brand of cars they drive,” she explains. That perception explains why people are reluctant to shift to public transport, which is seen as a downgraded mode of transport.
“So, while the opposers of PJD Link is unhappy about the construction of the highway,” she says “it is largely motivated by a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) motivation. They would still want to consume public road space for their private cars, just not built at their expense.” Koh, who also disagrees with the PJD, says she does not drive a car.
Aziff says that there needs to be a fine balance between protecting residential neighbourhoods’ rights and acknowledging the potential in greater public benefit to proposed urban development projects. “We need more reflective discussions in that space between the two.”
For now, though, the protestors and the resident associations stand firmly against a new highway through their communities. Some residents have volunteered to conduct their own social impact assessment of the PJD. Preliminary numbers seen by Macaranga show that most of the 1,500 respondents—largely residents in Petaling Jaya—disagree with the PJD; they believe it would hurt their quality of life.
The full results will be announced on 20 May.
[Additional reporting and edited by YH Law]