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An observation of pedestrian network in Tanah Rata, Cameron Highland

I have been visiting Cameron Highland several times and loving the pleasant weather of the highland and the greenery. It is an escape from a hot and humid city on the low land. We could see the scenic view of the hilly area from our bus, it was a winding road to Tanah Rata, but the thought of strawberry and cold weather cheered us up.


Some of the old buildings around Tanah Rata, like the Convent School, Post Office, and Ye Olde Smoke House, add charm to the ambience. The first time I went there as an architecture student, we stayed at the old but interesting Convent School. There were some tall buildings in Cameron Highland, but the road and streets were still not too busy. We walked from Convent to nearby shops with colourful flowers on the storefront and headed to a decent restaurant. There were few vehicles back then, and the hill area was still green.


Cameron Highland is a well-known tourist destination located in Pahang. It was explored in the 1880s by a British surveyor. Since then, it has been developing into a tourist attraction with a tea plantation, flowers, and vegetable farm. Tanah Rata, Brinchang and Ringlet are the three main towns within Cameron Highland which are always congested and crowded with tourists.


Tanah Rata is a flat area with various developments that comprise low-rise hotels, shops, commercial blocks, schools, and government offices. This is where activities and transportation nodes are located.


Figure 1.0 Old photos of the street in Tanah Rata in 1940 (source: cameronhighlandsinfo.com)

Figure 2.0 Current condition of the street (source: Author, 2022)

Based on old photos and maps of Cameron Highlands, the main street is one of the significant transportation spines with the provision of a sidewalk for pedestrians. The 1940s images reveal that the width of the road is to accommodate the mode of transportation at that period, and the population and development are not dense yet.


Local destinations become more crowded in this endemic situation as people cannot travel abroad, unlike before the pandemic hit the country. Therefore, a pedestrian network is crucial to cater to pedestrians’ needs in this new normal.

Based on old photos and maps of Cameron Highlands, the main street is one of the significant transportation spines with the provision of a sidewalk for pedestrians. The 1940s images reveal that the width of the street is to accommodate the mode of transportation at that period, and the population and development are not dense yet.


Local destinations become more crowded in this endemic situation as people cannot travel abroad, unlike before the pandemic hit the country. Therefore, a pedestrian network is crucial to cater to pedestrians’ needs in this new normal.


Pedestrian network


Walking is an activity that is essential in the town and city; it is a sustainable form of exercise which improve health, contributes to a cleaner environment and enhances city life. A good pedestrian network should be connected, safe and comfortable for all. To achieve this objective, it should be designed according to the needs of all users.


Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) under Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities promote making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Therefore, it is all stakeholders' responsibility to contribute to a better and safer environment. This includes Local Authority, consultants, developers, and the public.


There are numerous guidelines on highland development and relevant Act to assist and enforce action. One of the guidelines required is for pedestrians, as the public realm is more critical than a thoroughfare. By enhancing the public domain, walking activity will be more pleasant and encourage less dependency on vehicles, contributing to traffic congestion and polluting the environment. When walking facilities are adequate and proper, it will encourage pedestrians to walk, reducing car dependency, and contributing to a better environment, especially in higher density areas or towns. A good street is one of the main criteria for a good city (Dover and Massengale, 2013).


Criteria for good streets should be studied and adapted according to local context and climate. The aspect of safety, comfort and health should be included (Burden, 1998). The human dimension should be a crucial part of design consideration. Design quality (Jacobs, 1995) is essential for streets and sidewalks in the public space. A space which pedestrian consistently uses.


The street should be safe for all, physically and psychologically, from crossing the street to the perception of safety. Comfort levels should be assessed and enhanced where comfort will encourage walking activity. To create a comfortable street, issues such as maintenance should be upgraded at all levels. Public participation is also one of the aspects which should be promoted to increase the sense of belonging. Human scale urban form is essential in the city. It is an issue where new development is tied to many regulations, which is not humane.


Findings and discussion


Figure 3.0 reveals a lack of continuity in the pedestrian network. There are transportation and pedestrian nodes, with places for pedestrians to stop by and access, but the pedestrian network is not smooth and not connected. There are civic buildings, shops, hotels, and offices along the street, which are essential for the area's livelihood. Numerous new developments are competing with the existing old buildings.


Figure 3.0 Observation of nodes and path (source: Author, 2022)

Based on observation, pedestrians are still using the sidewalk from nearby hotels to find restaurants or access other facilities around the area. Some new developments provide a covered walkway that is quite pleasant for walking. It is connected to a public space considered ‘Pasar’. Walking is still regarded as smooth and safe from this node, but some areas are not connected and safe where there is no traffic calming. To enhance safety for pedestrians, traffic calming measures should be incorporated.


Inclusivity should also be addressed for the elderly, pregnant women, disabled and small children. This includes proper gradient for the ramp, working traffic light and crossing, adequate lighting, and other requirements stated in the Universal Design Standard or guideline.


Figure 4.0 View of Tanah Rata main street (Author, 2022)

Figure 4.0 shows the streets and sidewalks together with pedestrian nodes. Due to the existing solid and void of the area, the pedestrian network, such as sidewalks, is still the same. There should be some improvement to increase comfort and safety for pedestrians with the increase of traffic and population due to development.


Figure 5.0 Sidewalk condition (Author, 2022)

Figure 5.0 shows the street condition where pedestrians are unable to walk comfortably and safely at peak hours. There should be a sidewalk on the left side with activity nodes on the right side of the street. A better landscape could be introduced to enhance comfort by having shades which are climatic responsive such as pocket space or linear park. This is to encourage pedestrians to walk and rest while enjoying the cold weather of this hill station.


Figure 6.0 Condition of the main street and sidewalk at night (source: Azrul Rizad, 2022)

Walking activity should always be comfortable and safe based on Figure 6.0 shows that some improvements and enhancements are needed to improve the quality of design. Lighting is one of the aspects of improving visibility for pedestrians. The visibility of pedestrian sidewalks should be enhanced with proper lighting and colour to increase visibility. Lighting along narrow sidewalks needs to be enhanced, too, where pedestrians who stay at nearby hotels are observed walking at night to some eateries. Shrubs and planting should be maintained at a proper height to disturb surveillance.


As the town area is fully developed with high-rise development and mixed-use, there is a crucial need for pedestrians to walk safely and comfortably. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions on outbound travelling, local destinations have become even more popular. Even before the pandemic, Cameron Highland is already a popular holiday destination. Therefore, it is timely for the Local Authority to consider a more integrated pedestrian network which is safe and comfortable.


There is the provision of pedestrian crossing at a strategic location. There are few pedestrian nodes in the area that require pedestrians to walk. Therefore, Local Authority could evaluate the need to enhance the pedestrian network with consideration of comfort and safety. More care should be given to creating a sustainable pedestrian network as walking is an important activity even in a small town like Tanah Rata.


One aspect that needs consideration is cleanliness, not only on the sidewalk but also on the drainage. There are many restaurants around the area and along the street; therefore, a sense of smell is crucial. It should be pleasant enough for pedestrians to walk and enjoy the cold weather. Strict enforcement of the drainage system is vital as Cameron Highland is becoming endangered with too many developments, and poor drainage is visible. Apart from design, maintenance should be an essential concern. The owner of the buildings maintains the sidewalk condition; however, the quality of the overall appearance could be improved. The local Authority shall work together with the building owner on this matter.


Conclusion


Sustainable development is the key to creating a livable city for all. Without proper strategies specific to the area, the goals and objectives of sustainable development are hard to achieve, and the site will keep on deteriorating. It is visible that the famous hill station is fully exploited for agriculture and tourism, and even with policy and guidelines in place, the Local Authority needs to enforce them together with political will.


Enhancing and promoting walking will contribute to a better environment for pedestrians and nature. Proper study should be conducted not only on the needs of pedestrians but the environmental impact due to dependence on vehicles. Pedestrian-friendly streets and overall development should be on the agenda in a sensitive area like Cameron Highland.


Implementation and enforcement of a sustainable pedestrian network are crucial to control development and maintain the area as a precious and unique hill station. A sustainable walking street or pedestrian network should be part of the agenda if we value Cameron Highland as a tourist attraction, a natural environment with pleasant weather and a long-term life cycle in the special place. Finally, Cameron Highland should not be another Genting Highland. It should consider more the human dimension rather than flagship development.


References


i. Burden, D (1998). Walkable Communities: designing for pedestrians. p57

ii. Dover,V and Massengle,J. (2013). Street Design: The secret to great city and town. Willey and Sons, USA.

iii. Jacobs, A.B (1995). Great Street. MIT Press, USA

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