Deadly Obstacle Course At Gurney Drive

Casuarina tree outside Restoran Khaleel blocking almost the entire sidewalk at Gurney Drive
Casuarina tree outside Restoran Khaleel blocking almost the entire sidewalk at Gurney Drive.

Continuing from my previous entry regarding the lack of kerb ramps to the seafront promenade at Gurney Drive, there actually are quite a number of them across the road. The first kerb ramp is outside Evergreen Laurel Hotel where the blind man crossing sign is. However, there is no ramp to get off the sidewalk at the other end.

The subsequent kerb ramps outside the Zealand Cafe, Carnation Cafe and Song River Cafe are either poorly constructed or lead to sidewalks blocked by trees, phone booth or lamp posts. Wuan and I encountered a lamp post right in the middle of a sidewalk reminiscent of the one that we maneuvered around at Pandan Perdana and fell off the pavement and onto the road.

Kerb ramp and lamp post blocking sidewalk at Gurney Drive
Lamp post right in the middle of sidewalk at the junction of Persiaran Gurney – Jalan Birch.

When these sidewalks are not blocked by trees or street furniture, we encountered vehicles indiscriminately parked on the driveways and blocking access to the kerb ramps. In the end, I had to go on the road, too, and face oncoming traffic passing by inches away just like what I experienced the day before.

Wuan and I had gallivanted around Gurney Drive several times before this and I wonder how we managed then. We must have had more courage back then. Or perhaps we had faith in drivers in Penang to be careful and considerate. The accessible facilities for disabled people in Gurney Drive are simply built without much thought and consideration, and are a danger not only to disabled people but non-disabled pedestrians as well.

Vehicle blocking access the kerb ramp at Gurney Drive
Indiscriminately parked vehicle blocking access to kerb ramp at Gurney Drive.

Like I have repeated so many times before, building a ramp does not make it wheelchair friendly, handicapped friendly or disabled friendly, whatever we choose to call these facilities. They must be safe to use and barrier free. The ones at Gurney Drive are not. They fall short of even the most basic of requirements.

The people at Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang (MPPP) must take note of these matters seriously. It is a matter of life and death for disabled people when we have to go on the road to move from one point to another. It is not that difficult to make good kerb ramps and sidewalks that are barrier free. But I see the same mistakes being duplicated all over all the time.

Phone booth in sidewalk at Gurney Drive
Helo? There is a phone booth blocking the sidewalk at Gurney Drive.

This issue is not unique only to Gurney Drive, or Penang for that matter. Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL), Majlis Perbandaran Ampang Jaya (MPAJ) and Majlis Bandaraya Ipoh (MBI), to name a few, all build facilities that are mostly non-usable by disabled people despite of the availability of Malaysian Standard MS 1184: Code of Practice for Access for Disabled Persons to Buildings and Malaysian Standard MS 1331: Code of Practice for Access of Disabled Persons Outside Buildings

The engineers, architects and whoever are in charge of such infrastructure in the local governments are not doing their job properly. Two years after coming into force, the Akta Orang Kurang Upaya (Persons with Disabilities Act) rings hollow for disabled people whose right of equal access to public facilities are still being overlooked and ignored.

Inaccessible Toilet For Disabled People At Ulu Bernam RSA

PLUS Expressways Berhad (PLUS) is not serious in including accessible facilities at the rest and service area (RSA) and lay-bys along the North South Expressway (NSE). This is evident from my previous complaints regarding the facilities at Tapah RSA that went unrectified till now.

Likewise, the purportedly parking for disabled persons at all the RSAs and lay-bys have not been redone to comply with Malaysian Standard MS 1184. Disabled persons have no place to park and get out from vehicles conveniently. Moreover, the those parking spaces are usually occupied by vehicles without disabled persons.

Inaccessible toilet for disabled people at Ulu Bernam RSA Southbound
Toilet for disabled persons with the door opening inwards at Ulu Bernam RSA Southbound.

To add insult to injury, on my trip back from Ipoh last weekend, I discovered that the accessible toilet at the Ulu Bernam RSA Southbound was as good as useless. The door opened inwards. When I got in, I could not close the door due to the limited space inside for me to maneuver. I got Wuan to move the sanitary napkin disposal bin out. That did not help either. In the end, I emptied my bladder into the diaper I was wearing instead.

Before PLUS officials attend another conference on accessibility for disabled persons and proclaim to all and sundry that they provide such facilities at the RSAs and lay-bys, they should do an audit to ensure that these facilities are really functional and comply with the code of practice.

Putting a wheelchair logo on the toilet door or painting the logo on the parking space does not make them usable by disabled people. These facilities must comply with the Malaysian Standard MS 1184: Code of Practice for Access for Disabled Persons to Buildings. The document clearly spells out the proper dimension and requirements to make facilities usable by disabled people.

Update #2 Of The Pandan Perdana Pavement Upgrade

The pavement upgrade works were completed yesterday. Fellow accessibility advocate Robert Wang who also resides at Pandan Perdana went to check and discovered that the ramps were too steep. This was despite assurances from Encik Zahari of Jabatan Kejuruteraan Majlis Perbandaran Ampang Jaya (MPAJ) that the ramps would be built according to the code of practice which is the Malaysian Standard MS 1184 and MS 1331. Robert made an appointment to meet Encik Zahari this morning to discuss about rectifying the mistakes.

At the meeting we conducted a brief audit of the ramps and pavement. Encik Zahari concurred that the ramps were not properly done. The three ramps that we checked all had gradients of 1:6 when it should have been the ratio of 1:15. It is an impossibility for a wheelchair to go up a gradient of 1:6 without tipping backwards. We discovered that the width of the pavements was only 900mm when the code of practice recommended 1200mm. The pavement connecting to both ends of the bus stop were not flushed. There was difference of height of 1 inch. This uneven height is a barrier to wheelchair users. Moreover, non-disabled people who are not aware of the small steps may trip over them and injure themselves. Encik Zahari assured us that he will get the contractor to rectify the mistakes.

What I cannot comprehend is the fact that Malaysia has the capability to build the iconic Petronas Twin Towers, SMART Tunnel and the award winning Kuala Lumpur International Airport but we cannot even build a decent pavement that is safe and usable by everyone. This is also most disappointing especially when MPAJ had given their commitment to improve accessibility in the Ampang Jaya municipality by organising the Seminar dan Sesi Dialog Bersama OKU, Agensi Kerajaan dan Pihak Swasta (Seminar and Dialogue Session with Disabled People, Government Agencies and the Private Sector) and Disability Awareness Training. What more will it take to ensure that the accessibility needs of disabled people are not forgotten? As it is, our needs are often ignored and disregarded unless we make the effort to remind the government of our existence.

Ramp to upgraded pavement at Pandan Perdana
Poorly built ramp at Pandan Perdana.

Steep ramp at Pandan Perdana
Close-up of the ramp – too steep for wheelchair user to ascend unassisted.

Uneven levels between the bus stop and pavement
Arrows pointing to the uneven levels between the bus stop and pavement.

Uneven level between bus stop and pavement
A closer view of the uneven level between the bus stop and pavement.

Steep ramp at Pandan Perdana
The ramp at the other end of the pavement.

Steep ramp at Pandan Perdana
Yet another steep ramp at the other side of the road.