Standing at the intersection beneath Bukit Bintang monorail station, I was beginning to lose patience. Traffic had been roaring past in both directions for five minutes, with nary a sign that the lights were going to change and let the growing crowd of pedestrians cross. Then, as the fast flow of cars ground to a halt, the lights phased to allow traffic to come across the crossroads and turn right, leaving us stranded on the sidewalk.
To be fair, this happens in many places in most major developed cities around the world. But on all my travels, not just around Asia, I have never come across a city with claims to being ‘developed’ and ‘modern’ be so pedestrian unfriendly. LA might be car crazy, but at least there are pedestrian crossings that work. London, Tokyo and New York have their moments, but are by and large becoming increasingly friendly to those who prefer to traverse the city by foot.
KL, though, is nothing short of a farce. In many ways it is redolent of Shanghai. There are building sites everywhere and this naturally hampers pedestrian access. But where the Chinese, in their financial capital, have done much to make it easier to walk from A to B where construction is taking place, here paths are simply shut, leaving pedestrians to take their lives in their own hands and walk along the side of busy, four lane roads.
Things aren’t helped, either, by the existence of vast highways criss-crossing the centre of town. Walking from Maharajalela monorail to the National Mosque was nothing short of sheer farce. Clambering over low walls, walking up slip roads and down paths that ended abruptly, I felt like Alan Partridge on a yomp down the A11 in search of windscreen washer fluid.
On this particular journey, I gave up and went for coffee in Chinatown instead. While there, I hopped on the wifi to plot a route to Malaysia’s main religious site, it appearing on Google Maps to be just a short stroll away. In actual fact, it was a 21 minute walk along a few motorways. Hence we decided to jump a cab instead.
I have visited worse places in Asia for pedestrians. Hanoi is ‘take your life in your own hands territory’, while Phnom Penh after dark is an experience no one on foot should ever attempt. But neither of these places lay claim to being ‘developed’ in the western sense. KL does. But with the only decent walking opportunities in the centre of town connecting soulless malls in Bukit Bintang and KLCC, there’s no doubt in my mind that this is the hardest place to wander about and get lost I’ve ever visited.