Monday February 18, 2013
Pedal for change
Stories by LEONG SIOK HUI
A bicycle map is in the works to make Kuala Lumpur a cycle-able city.
WHAT makes a great cycling city? For starters, designated cycling lanes coupled with well-designed cycle routes. Slap on bike parking facilities and public infrastructure that allows easy bike transport, and you’re set to go.
But if your city has nada, what can you do?
Throw in your lot with Jeffrey Lim and help him map out the “best” cycling routes into and out of the city via his Cycling Kuala Lumpur, Bicycle Map Project. The zealous cycling advocate has designed a base map of KL and gives the maps out for free to volunteers to mark their cycling routes.
“It’s a Catch-22 situation – do we wait for the Government to build the bicycle lanes so that more people would cycle?” Lim says rhetorically.
“I thought, let’s start from the grass-roots; hence the map is a good start,” says the 34-year-old graphic designer. “The map is primarily designed to show the key routes from the suburbs into, around and out of KL.”
A well thought out map allows cyclists to plan their journey and makes the city easily navigable by bike.
A seasoned commuter, Lim travels everywhere with his steel-framed, classic gentlemen’s bicycle. His usual route takes him from home in Bangsar through Brickfields via Jalan Bangsar, onto Jalan Tun Sambanthan into the city centre.
“A return trip of 15-20km is considered a short trip, whilst a 45-60km ride across the city is a moderate one,” he adds.
He drives when he has to transport bulky items or attend far-away meetings. A full tank usually lasts him more than a month.
Growing up in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Lim started commuting by bike during his three-year working stint in Singapore. Through his Facebook page, Village Bicycles, he shares his bicycle touring experiences in Malaysia and around the world.
“I realised the importance of using a map, especially on my travels to Britain and China,” says Lim who has a thing for building classic bikes using salvaged old and new bike parts from his travels.
“In Britain, I found a whole infrastructure around bicycles. I was exposed to real bicycle lanes. Planning your route was so easy and the well-designed cycling map was such an eye-opener.”
Speaking of green urban commuting, bike-obsessed Europe certainly takes the lead. In Amsterdam, the capital of European biking, the number of bicycles trumps the number of residents (820,654 people in 2012).
Nearly half the city’s residents use their bikes for daily commute. Last year, the city ploughed €120mil (RM509mil) into upgrading bike routes, widening and enhancing bike paths, and increasing bicycle storage.
Last April, Denmark introduced its first cycle superhighway – a 17km smooth, paved bike path uninterrupted by roads and intersections and off-limits to motorised vehicles. One of 26 routes in the pipeline, the superhighway connects the suburbs to Copenhagen, the capital city.
In 1999, the British Government launched the Cycle to Work scheme to promote bike commuting and reduce environmental pollution. Employers loan bicycles and safety equipment to employees and get tax-free benefits.
Public bike-sharing schemes are found in major cities like Paris, Barcelona, Toronto, Hangzhou and Taipei, to name a few. The scheme allows you to rent a cheap bicycle in various spots around the city and return it after use.
Closer to home, the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) announced an ambitious plan to link the city with a 56km network of bicycle lanes in April 2012.
After the initial launch of the first bike lane last July – a 5.6km stretch in Damansara Damai – the project is on the back burner now. Up north, the Penang state government recently disclosed a proposal to build a 12.5km bicycle lane along the Penang coast at a cost RM30mil.
To kickstart the KL map project, Lim collected and studied bicycle maps from cities in England, Australia, the United States and The Netherlands. He pored over old maps of Kuala Lumpur, including one dating back to 1973.
“The old maps have standardised provisions for cyclists on how much space you need for emergency lanes or pedestrians. It shows you the first few main roads in KL and links you from one part of KL to another,” he explains.
Since he could not find a good, existing map designed for bicycle routes, he cobbled together a map from scratch. Using a scale of 1 to 15,000, the foldout map covers an 88sq km area with key roads linking the surrounding suburbs.
There are five route categories: busy main roads like Jalan Bangsar; alternative/quiet streets like residential areas; shared lanes like motorcycle lanes or river canals; pedestrian/park connectors; and trails/walk paths. Volunteers mark the routes from their usual commutes on the maps and hand them back to Lim when they are done.
“Just from designing this map, I found lots of cool stuff and urban planning problems in KL. For example, some residential areas are completely locked in by a labyrinthine network of highways,” he says.
One of the biggest problems for cyclists is the continuity of the flow of traffic, Lim discovered.
“On some stretches, you have to get off your bike, and lug it up a pedestrian overhead bridge to cross the highway,” Lim adds.
When he passed the word around to see if others may be interested to help, Lim was surprised by the positive responses.
“It’s a confidence boost for any cyclist to know there’s a bicycle map even if you don’t have bicycle lanes,” he says.
Since the project kicked off at the end of last year, Lim and the volunteers have sniffed out some vital crossings that bypass major highways and busy roads to connect the different roads.
“Rivers are natural boundaries so there are usually pedestrian crossings around rivers that cyclists can use,” he explains.
For example, to go around busy roads like Jalan Loke Yew and Jalan Cheras, you can ride from Cheras to Chan Sow Lin via an access bridge over Sg Kerayung. Or to get from Dutamas to Jalan Ipoh, cyclists can use pedestrian bridges that cross over KTM train tracks and Sg Keroh without using the major roads.
“The bike map may even help city council solve traffic problems by creating simple crossings to connect the districts together.”
For now, Lim is collating feedback from volunteers though more do-gooders are trickling in. He plans to publish the first draft of the map by the end of next month, followed by a second draft scheduled for June.
“Once the second draft is out, we will start testing and rating the routes, and tying up the loose ends,” says Lim who is putting in more than 20 hours a week on the project on top of his real job as a graphic designer. He digs into his own pocket to cover the cost of printing the base maps.
“I haven’t figured out the actual printing cost and specifications (paper stock type, finishing) for the final map; we are still far from that,” he admits sheepishly.
Working in earnest
“The ultimate plan is to give people confidence that KL is a cycle-able city and the map is an unofficial guide to cycling routes. It will be free and widely available for everyone.”
His target is to produce and distribute about 40,000 copies for the first print run which covers 1% of the population of KL and the surrounding suburbs.
“As the project progresses, we will start approaching officials and private commercial spaces and provide suggestions on how they could support the effort. For example, they can plan and budget for basic facilities and infrastructure, to support the bicycle network system,” he adds.
“Also, by sharing our findings with other state councils, they could also start their own projects and initiatives.”
But what if unscrupulous folks reproduce and sell the maps to make a quick buck?
“This map is for a greater good. If someone copies and produces it commercially, at least people will have a good map,” Lim surmises.
Well said. Here’s to pedal power!