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Historic George Town moves toward
a better future

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November 2022

Penang is said to be the Kuala Lumpur of the north – a bustling center of commerce and culture much like the capital of Malaysia. But it would be a disservice to this coastal state to simply compare it, as Penang is an attraction all on its own. Its state capital of George Town is particularly known for its vibrant street art, charming shophouses, and iconic street food. George Town is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site; and not too far off is another, the Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve.

Capitalizing on tourism has come with a cost, however. Locals (and tourists, especially pre-pandemic) find themselves jostling for space in narrow streets, often with double-parked vehicles. There is also a lack of footpaths and reliable public transportation. Managing growth, while preserving history and ensuring livability, can be a tough juggling act; but one the City Council of Penang Island (MBPP) is intent on acing.

The ASEAN Australia Smart Trust Fund (AASCTF) – financed by the Government of Australia, managed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and implemented by Ramboll – is currently supporting MBPP and Digital Penang (the state agency for digitalization) with the Penang Smart Mobility Micro-Simulation Model Development Project. This will help assess the current traffic and transport scenarios in the city and test a set of potential future interventions by developing a custom, calibrated transport model. The project will enable Penang to address congestion, boost public and active transport, and improve its streets and public spaces, keeping its creative and magnetic energy alive.

Specific Interventions Supported 

Richard Sprosen, Associate Director for Smart Mobility in Ramboll Singapore and AASCTF project lead, is careful to note that the project is not a silver bullet type of project. “This [project is not] about finding solutions to the problems in Penang because there’s no shortage of great ideas [here], and there’s no shortage of great studies that have been done in the past.” He refers to the Penang Transport Masterplan and Penang Green Transport Plan, which outlines a network of pedestrianized streets, public transport improvements, and other transport concepts. Instead, the AASCTF project, by simulation and other technologies, will help review the studies and provide the necessary toolkit to enable smart data capture, analysis, and decision-making which will “improve the lives of people in Penang,” says Sprosen.

In particular, the project team is also working with MBPP and Digital Penang to identify the potential improvements from existing plans that can have the greatest impact on addressing gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) issues. GESI is a crosscutting focus of the trust fund. Investigating the impacts of change in these areas will hopefully prioritize the implementation of such improvements. These may include improved safety, having pedestrian facilities on all roads, and improvements of public transport services. 

To develop the micro-simulation model, there are four main steps: data collection, model development, model calibration, and scenario testing. This will be done for two stages of the project: first is a small pilot area in George Town and second is expanding the pilot to the full UNESCO World Heritage Site of George Town. The model is being developed in PTV Vissim, the leading multimodal traffic simulation software used around the world.












In November 2021, as the country was reopening after the pandemic and the city was getting its usual traffic patterns back, the team conducted different surveys as part of data collection. This included traffic surveys, parking surveys, and origin-destination data surveys through the use of on-site video capture and remote GPS data. Quality data is vital to ensure analysis is based on real-world situations and for accurate simulation. The team also made a full inventory of existing junction and road layouts, traffic signal information, bus stops, public transportation facilities, and other such conditions. These allowed the team to understand traffic flow, speeds and bottlenecks, parking behavior, and people’s movement.

From the data collection, as well as the preliminary desktop assessments and stakeholder consultations, the team developed and calibrated the simulation model for Stage 1, testing various scenarios and comparing the base model or current situation with possible solutions that the city could implement in the years ahead.


Results and Impact 

Once Stage 1 is completed, the team will release an interactive guide for the model, detailing the process and results of the trials. Stage 2 will be a similar yet more comprehensive undertaking. The team will be able to evaluate the impact of transport strategies or other interventions and advise on enhancements needed. This will also allow AASCTF to recommend changes to Penang’s Traffic Impact Assessment (TIA) guidelines. In addition, the team will produce and deliver a PTV Vissim training course that ensures the sustainable use of the simulation model by city authorities. At the end of the project, MBPP will receive the full simulation model and software.


With this smart technology, Penang will have the means to assess the implications of development plans in the city and test different transport policies and designs. “This enables MBPP to compare options and find the best solutions, looking at the impacts, without investing capital or making changes on the road network,” Sprosen explains. Also, it can help with communicating plans to the community and getting their support for proposed changes in the city, such as, for example, showing a simulation of how the removal of on-street parking could improve spaces for shop owners and pedestrians, while still maintaining a thriving city center.

“You can test anything and everything, all of the different great ideas you have you can test in the simulation model.”

The result? The simulation is micro, but the imagination is macro. Penang can chart its path forward while protecting its rich past.

This impact story was published as part of the ADB Urban Financing Partnership Facility Mid-Year Report: January to June 2022



  • Elga Reyes, AASCTF
Survey - Road Movement Direction.png

Part of the road surveys to develop the micro-simulation model included the inventory of junction and network information, as well as the direction of travel along the roads (photo by AASCTF).

You can test anything and everything, all of the different great ideas you have you can test in the simulation model.


Richard Sprosen
Associate Director for Smart Mobility, 
Ramboll Singapore

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