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Public transport can repair urban sprawl, ‘deviant’ and ‘loopy’ bus routes

Human Transit blogger Jarrett Walker has a very interesting post on “transit’s role in sprawl repair” in which he discusses the way that suburban arterial roads could be redesigned to “humanize” streets and make them more public transport and pedestrian friendly in order to manage growth and curb the more negative effects of urban sprawl.

As you can imagine, Malaysian suburban arterial roads have been designed and redesigned with a focus on improving “traffic flow” – that is, reducing existing and potential bottlenecks (such as traffic lights, roundabouts, pedestrian crossings, etc) which could cause cars to slow down or stop, leading to the dreaded “congestion” that everyone seems to fear.

Unfortunately, what they cannot do (or have not attempted to do) is reduce the number of cars on the roads – which means that all of their efforts to improve traffic flow go up against an increasing number of cars making an increasing number of trips, during an increasingly long period of the day – the perfect recipe for increased traffic congestion.

When supply (in this case, available road space) is clearly fixed and the demand (the number of vehicles and trips) is increasing, there is going to be a shortage. One way to address the shortage is to put an increasing price on demand (higher petrol costs, higher costs of purchasing, operating or maintaining a car, and of course road pricing). But as you can see from the Malaysian experience, all efforts to reduce demand by increasing the cost of private transport have not worked!

The other solution to change demand is to shift many of these car trips onto other modes – especially active modes like cycling, walking and using public transport.

In order to make this happen, suburban arterial roads and road-highways need to be redesigned to make them pedestrian and public transport friendly.

Jarrett suggests some of the following solutions based on his concept of “ideal geography” for public transport:

  • take gradual, inexpensive steps to make arterial roads friendly, instead of ripping everything up (and in Malaysia’s case, proposing to “put in” an LRT or elevated highway);
  • destinations should be aligned to arterial roads to ensure constant and consistent demand along the route (instead of widely-spaced clusters of destinations);
  • public transport (and walking) routes should be as direct as possible with few deviations (unlike our current stage bus routes that wind their way through housing estates to pick up passengers);
  • do not try to force people to use public transport – instead, provide a variety of alternatives for those who are not interested in driving (as much);
  • transit stops should be located across the street from each other, and at every transit stop, there must be a protected, safe (and accessible) way to cross the street – this allows direct bus routes (rather than our looping bus routes) and encourages round trips;
  • Stop spacing should be approximately 300-400m for local bus trips (walking distance of 150-200m) and 800m-1km for express/long-haul bus or light-rail trips (of course other details must be worked out such as the user profile, local geography, destinations, etc.)


We are always interested in suggestions and ideas that would make our massive, congested arterial roads more public transport and pedestrian friendly.

It is our hope that local councils and other levels of government will consider these initiatives wherever possible. This must also be bolstered by cooperation from public transport operators to offer direct bus routes rather than the current ‘deviant’ and ‘loopy’ bus routes.

What are your thoughts on improving the design of our suburban arterial roads? Please share your thoughts in the space below.

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