Perils of a bicycle lane in Kuala Lumpur

Illegal parking: A DBKL enforcement officer issuing a summons for illegal parking. The car was among several vehicles found parked on the blue bicycle lane along Jalan P. Ramlee.

WHEN I was growing up in Seremban, the preferred mode of transport was the bicycle.

I thought that was only in small towns but when I got to university in the 1970s, I was told by my peers in Kuala Lumpur that they used to cycle to school as well.

Would you, dear reader, allow anyone in your family to cycle to school these days?

If you do cycle in Kuala Lumpur now, you either have a death wish or you are one brave soul.

There are plenty of folk who would cycle in the city on the occasional Sunday provided the usual guarantees were there – road closures, traffic policemen, etc. I refer, of course, to the trappings of civilisation.

Therefore, you can imagine my astonishment when the idea of bicycle lanes for the city was proposed.

It’s all very noble and all that but I wish the planners would think things through before implementing them.

In the first place, being a pedestrian in Kuala Lumpur isn’t very safe either. The sidewalk is supposed to belong to you but try telling that to the motorcyclist trying to get through a jammed road by cutting through a sidewalk.

The poor pedestrian is forced to walk carefully with many a backward glance. Worse still, the motorcyclists occasionally cut through the sidewalks on the wrong side. And such is their aplomb, their I-have-every right-to-do-this attitude, that I have seen them do it in front of traffic policemen.

In any case, City Hall has implemented a RM4mil, 5.3-km bicycle lane in the city with intentions noble enough to pave a couple of highways into the hereafter.

I can just picture the scene. Here you are, an intrepid soul cycling along in Kuala Lumpur, healthfully gulping up the dust and petrol fumes of rush hour.

But you are in a zone because you are moving while traffic all around you is stalled. The problem is other people notice it too.

And soon you will hear it, the dreaded roar of motorcycles behind you, impatiently willing you out of the way, till you finally combine cycling with fleeing.

At that point, adrenaline and fright come together in an excellent substitute for perfect cardiovascular exercise. It might be what City Hall had in mind.

The bicycle lane is also an invitation. Malaysians are constantly starved of parking space and the empty blue expanse of the bicycle lane is just a space begging to be filled.

I thought I should do some research on the matter and, together with my wife, went for a drive through the city yesterday at about 3pm.

This is what we noticed.

> Streams of motorcycles tearing along the dotted line – I mean, the bicycle lane.

> At least two buses parked on the lanes.

> Any number of cars parked similarly.

> No bicycles in sight although, in fairness, it was the afternoon where, apparently, only mad dogs and Englishmen venture out.

We can’t blame City Hall because it tries and, occasionally, comes up with a superlative idea.

The city’s elevated walkways, for example, are a marvellous idea with all three elements of safety, comfort and convenience in one well-designed package.

On the other hand, I wish it would stop thinking about how to reduce traffic jams by a widening here and a flyover there.

What these generally result in are large expenditures and some confusion owing to detours and temporarily narrowed roads.

And after the annoyance of the noise, dust and the fumes, what can sometimes result is that the previously existing traffic jam is relocated by 1km

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