To celebrate World Car Free Day tomorrow (Sept 22), Star2 talks to three people who cycle to work regularly, a Danish expat and a Malaysian artist in Kuala Lumpur, plus a civil servant in Kuching.
“LET’S have a moment of silence for all those who are stuck in traffic, on their way to the gym to ride on stationary bicycles,” this is the kind of cyclists’ humour that Gregers Reimann, a Danish consultant on green building technology, likes to tell people.
He grew up in Copenhagen, where bicycling is the norm, and when he moved to Kuala Lumpur over eight years ago, he imported his habit.
“I cycle regularly to work from Bukit Bintang to Bangsar about 8km each way. I love cycling, the exercise and the freedom of not being stuck in traffic.
“When my colleagues and I go for lunch nearby, I will be the first to arrive while they are still circling around looking for parking,” says Reimann.
To encourage his staff to cycle, he has bought bicycles for them to use. He has also adapted his office’s water hose bidet, something commonly found in Malaysian toilets, by attaching a longer hose and a sprinkler head. And voila, a shower is created for less than RM50! “The lack of shower facilities at your workplace should no longer be an excuse for not cycling,” he says.
For Reimann, cycling is more than just exercise or a time-saving convenience, it’s also about serious money, in terms of benefits to society.
He cites a study done by the city of Copenhagen’s traffic department called Bicycle Account 2010, which shows that the socio-economic benefits of cycling can be quantified in cold hard cash.
For EVERY kilometre cycled, the city collectively gains DKK1.22 (Danish Krones, equal to RM0.70) of benefits in terms of transport costs and time saved, improved health (from greater exercise), less sick-leave, less strain on the health sector and higher productivity as well as reduced noise and air pollution.
Cycling has become part of the city’s health plan (not just transport plan) and it’s called, fittingly, Long Live Copenhagen.
A cycling plan for our city could be called Long Live KL! or Hidup KL! – but what about road safety? Reimann says it’s actually quite safe as he tries to use smaller roads and he cycles on large roads only if the traffic is slow. If it’s fast, he will become a quasi-pedestrian by cycling on the sidewalk and using walkers’ crossings.
In addition, cycling also benefits a city’s tourism and that crucial intangible asset of “branding” as “Copenhagen, City of Cyclists”.
The report states: “Our excellent cycling conditions have generated attention abroad and are an effective tool for marketing Copenhagen as a modern, healthy and attractive metropolis. Time Magazine, for example, rated Copenhagen as the world’s fifth most attractive tourist attraction in 2010 partly due to excellent cycling conditions. [This] has a positive impact on attracting international conferences, highly educated new arrivals and hotel guests.”
In contrast, for every kilometre that cars are driven, there is a net social LOSS of 0.69 DKK (RM0.40) in terms of congestion times, petrol used, pollution, decreased exercise and health, etc.
“In other words, the total benefit to society by having people shift from car driving to bicycling would amount to RM1.11 per km,” says Reimann. “The same calculations would apply to KL because traffic congestion here is terrible.”
Apart from Europe, we can also Look East: in egalitarian communist times, China’s cities were full of cyclists, but as people became richer, they wanted a status symbol. The result now is widespread traffic jams and air pollution in places like Beijing.
For those who want the transport benefits of cycling but don’t want to sweat, another option is electric bikes.
“I believe that both normal and electric bikes should be part of the future traffic solution for KL,” says Reimann. However, right now there’s a “world wide confusion” on how to classify the electric bikes, as they are often just lumped with motor-bikes.
He personally thinks they should be classified as bicycles as along as:
1) The speed cannot exceed 25km/hour
2) The weight cannot exceed 25kg
“Another barrier to cycling is the perception that a bicycle is a poor man’s transport,” says Reimann. “That is why I like to tease people a bit that I feel so happy to upgrade my company car to a ... bicycle! And I actually mean it.”
He has two foldable bicycles, a fully pedal-powered Brompton, and a Yike electric bike.
“They don’t need parking space, because they fold up nicely and can be ‘parked’ next to my desk,” he says.
Another practical thing about folding bicycles is that they can be combined easily with public transport.
“For example, even when I have meetings 25km away in Putrajaya, I still go by bicycle. That is, I cycle to KL Sentral, take the train to Putrajaya station, and cycle to the meeting venue after arrival. For this purpose, my 100% electric folding bicycle is very useful, as it allows me to move about without getting sweaty.”
Earlier this year, he proposed to the Singapore Government to subsidise commuting by bicycling by paying “negative ERP” (Electronic Road Pricing or tolls) directly into people’s accounts – which would improve public health and reduce traffic congestion. “I’m planning to make the same pitch to the Malaysian Government,” says Reimann.
“In Malaysia, petrol is subsidised, so every time you commute by bicycle, less petrol is used and the government pays out less subsidies. Why not channel (some of) this savings back to the cyclists?”
One way to “give back” to cyclists is to build bicycle paths, or at least, a line separating cars and bicycles so that people will feel safer about cycling. And perhaps building simple cycling lanes would cost only a small fraction of the new Klang Valley MRT, which reportedly cost RM50bil?
As a last word, Reimann says, “Did I mention that people who cycle regularly add five years to their life? How is that for a motivator?”
Cycling to The Star