Cycling agenda needs work

OVER the past few decades, as the world became rapidly urbanised, cars have been the main mode of private transport contributing to traffic congestion and pollution in cities. To counter these problems, many countries have advocated cycling as an option for short commutes and recreational purposes.

Bicycles are commonly used by people in European cities. One can enjoy a breathtaking view cycling along the banks of the River Rhine in Germany. In Copenhagen, Denmark, planners have built "cycle superhighways" that are separated from roads and have cycling amenities.

Cities like London, New York, Taipei and Melbourne have reconfigured their streets with better and safe cycling lanes and stops.

Singapore is also turning into a cycle-friendly city. Their national cycling plan aims to make cycling a safe, healthy and convenient transport option for Singaporeans. By 2030, all HDB towns will have cycling paths and bicycle parking facilities. In addition, developers are required to submit a walking and cycling plan for new developments.

Malaysia is no exception to this trend.

As part of its sustainable development efforts to make Kuala Lumpur one of the world's greenest cities, bicycle lanes have been built around the city centre. The 11km lane, estimated to cost RM4 million, stretches from DBKL headquarters in Jalan Raja Laut to Jalan Sultan Ismail, the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre and back to Jalan Sultan Ismail through Medan Pasar and Dataran Merdeka.

This blue bicycle lane was introduced in conjunction with the 9th World Urban Forum last month. It is on a two-month trial as there are teething problems. The difficult part is for DBKL to ensure strict enforcement so that the dedicated lanes are used solely by cyclists. During peak hours, irresponsible motorists often park or wait in the bicycle lanes.

There was a "Cycling Kuala Lumpur" event that had more than 90 dignitaries taking part, including the Raja Muda of Perlis and the mayor of Kuala Lumpur.

The Dutch minister of foreign trade and development cooperation, Sigrid Kaag, suggested that KL should prioritise cycling as a mode of transport to promote a healthier lifestyle among residents. In her country, 36% of the people use bicycles as the most frequent mode of transport, enabled by excellent cycling infrastructure.

When planning bicycle infrastructure, local authorities should maintain separate lanes for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists as much as possible. Other important considerations are connectivity to MRT and LRT stations and surrounding developments, availability of bicycle parking facilities and clear signs to minimise conflicts among pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.

It is a positive sign that the new mayor of Penang Island, Yew Tung Seang, has pledged to alleviate traffic congestion by making the island more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly. He needs the assistance of his officers and councillors, besides the cooperation of the public.

There is a bike sharing system called LinkBike on Penang Island. Any one can rent a bicycle at any of the 25 stations in places such as Gurney Drive, George Town, Karpal Singh Drive and Queens Bay Mall, for sightseeing and other purposes. It is not surprising that most of the stations are close to the heart of George Town. The early adopters of such bike sharing systems are often young people who work in creative industries clustered around the city centre, or tourists looking for an easier way to see places.

Although more Malaysians are using bicycles, they still do not use them to go to work or to run errands, but use them mainly for recreational activities. Planners and transport advocates need to do more to ensure that cycling is used for commuting and general personal mobility.

In addition, cycling offers a convenient form of exercise, something that will help address public health problems.

The use of bicycles is not something new. In the 1960s, bicycles were commonly used by students. There was no "bus sekolah" and most parents did not own cars. Today, many parents or grandparents drive their children or grandchildren to school.

Planners need to implement safe bicycle lanes throughout the city, not only to tourist sites, but to schools, religious establishments and government buildings.

Along with necessary improvements in public transport and walkability, hopefully more and more Malaysians will cycle to work, shop and do errands. This will have the positive outcome of a culture of mobility that is not always tied to private cars.

Datuk Dr Goh Ban Lee is interested in urban governance, housing and urban planning. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com