I didn’t have the opportunity to cycle to school in my primary days (in the sixties) because the little kampung school nearby my home then was a sekolah kebangsaan where the medium of instruction was Bahasa Melayu. Father insisted that I went to a sekolah orang putih (every subject was taught in English except for Bahasa Melayu). So, I had to go to school in town by the school bus (that’s about 2 miles, yes, it was the imperial system then, or approximately 3.2 km now), which meant waiting for the bus in the wee hours of the morning, in the dark (around 6.00 am). The bus took us on a round-trip, picking up school kids along the way for about one and a half hours before school started.
Oh how I envied friends who cycled to school. There were no bicycle lanes then, but then there were also relatively fewer cars too and we didn’t hear of bicycle-car accidents. Well, at least none of my bicycle-peddling friends were even grazed by cars. But anyway, my consolation as I see it now is, by taking the school bus, I was supporting the local public transport company (also, less carbon emissions) as compared to having my father send me to school by car. We were then already practicing “going green”.
Neither did I have the opportunity to cycle to school in my secondary school days since staying in a boarding school didn’t require one to cycle. We walked everywhere within the school compound, it was a pedestrian-friendly campus. Eventually, walking was also my main form of transport in college days. Of course I was so much healthier and a lot fitter then!
Fast forward 30 years later, staying in Alor Setar where the house we stayed in was a mere 800 meters to the primary school my kids were studying in, I still did not have the luxury of letting them cycle to school. It was too high a risk, there were no bicycle lanes and there were too many cars on the road to let them cycle safely to school. Walking was a better option even though there was no pedestrian walkway to school either!. The kids had to share the same road space with cars, school buses, motorcyclists and bicyclists, come rain or shine.
The present situation is no less different than in the 60s or the 90s. We still do not have safe access by bicycles to schools nor anywhere! There is yet an example of a town or city in Malaysia that can be termed as bicycle-friendly where the mode of transport to work or school (except recreation) is by bicycle. You could perhaps count Putrajaya, whereby Perbadanan Putrajaya is consciously making efforts at having cycle infrastructure for its residents as well as tourists. However, more and more residential neighbourhoods are coming up with designs for use of bicycles, more so for recreational purposes.
Bicycle-friendly cities around the world
Cycling indisputably offer numerous benefits compared to motor vehicles, including exercise (healthier lifestyle), an alternative to the use of fossil fuels (fast depleting, non-renewable), no air nor noise pollution, much reduced traffic congestion, no-hassle parking, and access to both roads and paths. It offers less financial costs, causes less damage to roads and less pavement is required. However it may require longer travel time (except in densely populated areas) and is more vulnerable to weather conditions, especially in a hot, humid and wet country like ours. But nevertheless, the merits still outweigh its disadvantages especially if we strive to become the 20th most liveable city in the world in 2020, as in the case of Greater Kuala Lumpur.
The internet offers a lot of websites with a wide range of information regarding cities which are the world’s most bicycle-friendly. Many of them are opinion pieces while others use various criteria in making up the list. Going by hard facts, copenhagenize.com1 came up with a list reflecting the percentage of trips made by bicycle in various cities. The rationale is that the “percentage of people choosing the bicycle in a city indicates that cycling infrastructure is in place, that the culture is bicycle-friendly, that there is a will to transform cities into more liveable places and that cycling is, or has been, promoted positively”. The listing features large and small cities with percentages of people choosing to cycle (Appendix 1). These cities include Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Malmo, Basel, Osaka, and Tokyo to name a few. However, this may be a biased outlook because most of the cities are within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries whilst relatively very few cities are from the USA or Asia-Pacific for that matter.
Another website by askmen.com2 has listed the 10 most bicycle-friendly cities in the world, namely Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Bogota, Curitiba, Montreal, Portland, Basel, Barcelona, Beijing and Trondheim (Table 1). All these cities have consciously made efforts towards improving bicycle infrastructure and spent a lot of public expenditure in making sure biking remains the top mode of non-motorized transport in their countries.
What about the practice in Malaysia? Where we are now? Please continue reading in:
Part 2: The Malaysian Case?
National Physical Planning Division