THE main concern of cyclists who commute to work are road conditions and traffic safety.
Gregers Reimann, a Danish eco-friendly buildings consultant who commutes daily between Bukit Bintang and Bangsar (about 8km each way) in Kuala Lumpur, says: “Motorists are used to looking out for motor bikes in traffic, and as a cyclist, I fall into that same category. When selecting the smaller roads, bicycling is actually quite OK, even though people always look very frightened when I tell them that I commute by bicycle.
“The biggest danger is being hit from behind by a fast car driver who does not see me, so I only ride on roads where I can go more or less the same speed as traffic. If the road is congested and traffic is slow, I will ride on the road. But if traffic is flowing (fast), I will ride on the sidewalk and cross the street at the pedestrian crossing.”
S.K. Yeong, who cycle-commutes within Petaling Jaya, says: “For me, any road that is safe for walking, is also safe for cycling, because I see myself as a pedestrian on two wheels. I will get down and push my bicycle at heavy traffic junctions where there are speeding cars if that is the safest way for me to cross. As a cycle commuter, road safety very much depends on ourselves. Do not expect other motorists to do the right thing.”
However, in his five years of cycling to work, he finds that other road users are mostly courteous.
Another cycle-commuter, Chan Jer Ping, says: “The problems only start because a few motorists think they own the road. They squeeze us cyclists on the roads without shoulder space, by driving very near when overtaking.
“Just recently, a car grazed me even though the traffic on the residential road was jammed and barely inching forward. I felt very angry.”
When this writer tried cycling to The Star’s office in Petaling Jaya, he used quieter residential roads. He also had to carry his bike up (and down) two overhead pedestrian bridges to avoid cycling on busy highways.
For Mohd Farid Rahmat, the major problem is the attitude of some drivers at peak hours.
“When rushing to go to work, some of them don’t look out for small vehicles like bicycles. That is why my friends and I keep having our ‘Critical Mass’ riding event every last Friday of the month to highlight that drivers need to share the roads with others.”
His boss was very supportive, yet worried about him when he wanted to cycle to work. “But family and friends have encouraged me to keep cycling.”
Lai Wai Keat’s family was also worried about possible accidents. “They were scared but now they are supportive because they’ve seen how I’m always careful about safety. In fact, my family members are now picking up cycling!”
How can the authorities help?
The Penang state government has begun painting a portion of George Town’s narrow roads to alert motorists to the presence of cyclists. And the Selangor state government also promised to build bicycle lanes in its 2013 election manifesto.
There is also talk that KL City Hall is planning a study of cycling lanes. Clearly, cycling is gaining enough traction for politicians to make it part of their agenda.
Reimann comes from Copenhagen, Denmark, where he says 50% of the residents commute by bicycle.
“The city aggressively strives to increase that number by introducing more bicycle paths and even so-called ‘bicycle super corridors’ connecting the suburbs with the city centre. Some of our ministers even cycle to parliament.”
Even without bike lanes, Yeong says local councils can just put up road signs to alert motorists to look out for cyclists.
A Malaysian architect explains: “Bike lanes will be great, but in the meantime, many other cheap, simple things can be done.”
For example, drain grates that are parallel to roads (and which can thus trap small bicycle wheels) should be rotated 90°. And obviously, potholes should be repaired quickly before cyclists (or motor cyclists) get injured.
The architect adds, sidewalks can be put to dual purpose use – for pedestrians and (slower) cyclists – by removing obstacles like metal posts and having little cemented slopes where cyclists can roll onto roads. A ramp can be added to overhead pedestrian bridges so that cyclists can push their bikes up when crossing highways.
“These are all very cost-effective things that can be done without having to wait for a major project to build bicycle lanes. In fact, there are even private donors or corporations willing to pay for it; the authorities just need to give permission.”
Rooting for a green route
Cyclists need a safe place to park