Making Kl Friendlier For Cyclists

By Kurniawati Kamarudin

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- Rarely do we see people cycling on the main roads in the city centre, particularly on work days.

However, it is a different case around the areas of Kampung Pandan and Desa Pandan. Bicycles can be seen almost everywhere particularly in the mornings. Majority of the cyclists tend to be school children, youths, senior citizens and mothers.

Although at times they have to use the back alleys and wait quite a while before motorists would let them cross roads, they still opted for the mode of transportation.

Such difficulties were not uncommon to the lives of cyclists in Kuala Lumpur (KL).

CONFLICTS

Cyclists in KL are subjected to such live-threatening risk because there is no dedicated cycling lane to enable them to reach their destinations safely. Instead they have to share the road with bigger and faster vehicles.

For Wong Hau Young, in his 30s, who has been using his bicycle as a mode of transportation for the past three years, the problem seemed to have gotten worse.

"As a cyclist, I can safely say that the roads around KL are not cyclist-friendly.

"Previously, despite the lack of a dedicated lane, there were still routes that we could use to get from place to place. However, many of the roads today have become way too dangerous for cyclists, " he told Bernama when met recently.

Among the roads that have become difficult for cyclists to utilise are from Jalan Jelatek to Ampang in both directions. The ongoing road widening works have changed the traffic patterns and presented serious danger for cyclists.

"I have noticed that in every plan to build or widen roads, they do not include a dedicate lane for cyclists. This has made cyclists anxious over their safety. They would have to think over many times before cycling anywhere. It would ultimately lead to the decline of cyclists in KL, " he said.

Widened roads indirectly encourage motorists to speed, putting cyclists in greater danger.

Several of Wong's friends around Keramat and Wangsa Maju have been cycling to get to places even before the construction of the Duta-Ulu Kelang Expressway (DUKE).

However, after DUKE was completed, they found that they could no longer cycle safely due to road safety issues for cyclists.

FARTHER BUT SAFER

Wong, who sells self-defence sports equipment for a living, said that he cycles every day especially to deliver orders.

He starts the day by cycling from his home in Desa Pandan at around 9am to the post office in Taman Shamelin Perkasa before proceeding with other errands in the city centre.

At an average speed of 20kmph cycling is slower than other transportation option yet Wong believes very likely that cyclists will reach their destinations faster than those in cars, given the traffic conditions in major cities.

For many such as students and senior citizens, cycling was a not a choice but a necessity as it was the only mode of transportation they could afford.

"Many cyclists pedal slowly for their own safety and because they do not want to sweat.

"Furthermore, the bicycle they own are not those thousand Ringgit ones used for sports and recreation, " he said.

To ensure their safety, many cyclists are forced to take the farther route to their destinations such as by going through neighbourhoods where there are less cars.

For example, getting to the Berjaya Times Square would require Wong to cycle through the neighbourhoods in Jalan Pudu to avoid dangerous traffic.

"That's my best option even though the shortest route would be straight through Bulatan Kampung Pandan to Times Square. I don't dare take that route because there are so many vehicles going rather fast there so it is unsuitable for bicycles, " he said.

SOCIETAL PERCEPTION

Despite cycling being an environmentally-friendly mode of transportation and good for health and fitness, Wong's decision to cycle everywhere is frowned upon by many.

However, he paid no heed to their comments and chose instead to look on the bright side of things.

Not all drivers were callous. Some would slow down their vehicles and make way for cyclists, he said.

"In Kampung Pandan and Desa Pandan, for example, the drivers are used to seeing cyclists and don't mind sharing the road with them, often giving way to us, " he said.

Things were however different in Petaling Jaya.

Wong said motorists there tended to act selfishly and were unfriendly to other road users.

"They are also impatient and drive fast even within housing areas, often racing each other to exit a lane, but that is just my personal view. It all depends on the person, " he said.

He hoped that Malaysia would emulate countries that make cycling an effective and popular mode of transportation as not only was it good for health but helped in reducing emissions as well.

At the very least, he said, Malaysia could emulate Singapore which provided special lanes for pedestrians and cyclists.

"As soon as you pass by the immigration area you can see a dedicated bicycle and pedestrian lane.

"I truly hope that the local authorities can include a cycling lane in their development plans, especially in KL, " he said, adding that it would also be helpful to have a bicycle parking facility especially in the city centre.

CYCLING IN KL

A lecturer in urban planning recently went on a group cycling on several roads around KL and experienced for herself the difficulties faced daily by cyclists in the city.

Dr Norhazliza Abd Halim, a senior lecturer at the Urban and Regional Planning Department of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) cycled to Kampung Pandan through Jalan Semarak, Jalan Jelatek and Jalan Ampang.

Certain roads were designed in such a way that it became dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists because it enabled motorists to speed. There were also obstacles that prevented them from fully utilising the mode of transportation.

"Cyclists often have to look for alternative routes to their destinations as there are no dedicated lanes for them. They are regarded as unimportant, " she told Bernama when contacted recently.

She saw that many of the routes she took was popular with cyclists, including those who cycle to the LRT stations.

There were many bicycles parked at the parking lots provided by the local authorities, such as the Ampang LRT Station.

"This shows that many people cycle. I also found during my ride the alternative routes used by cyclists especially during peak hours.

"Those routes felt safer as they were not shared with other vehicles. If these routes could be upgraded, it is not impossible that many more will turn to cycling as a mode of transportation, " she said.

BRING THE CULTURE BACK

Bicycles used to be very popular in Malaysia in the 1960s and 1970s, with people cycling not only in the villages but cities as well.

However, its usage started to lessen due to the motorised vehicle industry boom.

Society today tends to view cycling more as a sports or recreational activity more than a mode of transportation.

In addition to the heat and rain, the distance between one place to another is the reason why many prefer to ride in cars or use public transportation.

"We also need to pay serious attention to the way our roads are constructed if we want to relive the culture of cycling as a mode of transportation, as is practiced in cities like Seattle (U.S) and Amsterdam (Netherlands) and countries like China and Sweden, " she said.

In addition to that, there should also be incentives for those who lived or worked far from the city centre to encourage them to opt cycling over driving.

Among the ideas that could be considered were providing rental bicycles and dedicated bicycle parking spots, she suggested.

BERNAMA