As commuting by car becomes increasingly exhausting in traffic-clogged Kuala Lumpur, cycling has become an attractive option for hardier Malaysians.
Cycling enthusiast Jeffrey Lim once barely saw any other cyclist using pedal power to commute around town. Now, he sees three to five others every day.
“When I came back in 2009, I may see only one other cyclist but, now, I see three to five a day,” he said. “They are definitely a lot more now.”
It’s a global phenomenon, he said. Cycling has really taken off in international cities like London. It still lags far behind in Malaysia but as KL’s traffic becomes more exhausting, more people have begun to consider cycling as an option.
Besides, he noted that Malaysia does have a long cycling culture especially in small towns where the elderly still commute on bicycle. Commercial trade on bicycles is still common beyond KL.
It was his volunteer-based project to create a cycling map for KL that caught the imagination of many including the KL City Hall.
The City Hall has now begun to organise car-free mornings in the city once a month, and, more importantly, it has also begun to look into cycling infrastructure.
Two cycling routes are under planning with the first from the Midvalley shopping centre near Bangsar to Dataran Merdeka.
The routes are based on the map created by Lim and 700 volunteers over the last two years. They had painstakingly mapped six routes into the city from as far as Kepong and Petaling Jaya, as well as two loops within the city.
The map covers over 200km of routes and 110 sq km of the city. More importantly, it shows the spots where cyclists can cross highways and major roads safely.
Ten thousand copies have been printed, and are being distributed for free in bicycle shops and cafes listed at cyclingkl.blogspot.com. They are also be available online.
To Lim, this project has done more than just create a map to help cyclists. It had also created a ground momentum for a campaign for cycling, and encouraged some people to try it out.
“When we share the map with people, it’s also a form of campaign,” he said.
It has been an exhausting two years for Lim, a graphic designer and social artist, who put his own money into this project.
He checked out every single route suggested by volunteers, and scoured unknown paths in the city for new routes.
He enthusiastically recounted discovering a particular scenic route along the Klang River, free from traffic. These maintenance paths would be ideal for cyclists, with some work to it easier to access.
Over the last two years, Lim has cycled over 3,000km, and burned thousands of calories along the way.
“If I wanted to do this project, I had to do it right,” he said.
Cycling is now so much a part of his life that the bicycle is his first choice of transport unless he’s travelling out of town or carrying a heavy load. Having travelled less than 1,200km by car this year, he has refueled his car just four times.
“The car has become an alternate mode of transport for me, it’s a transition to get off oil dependency,” he said.
He said it is now become easier to cycle, in some ways. The map helps a lot as it showed cyclists how they can fit safely into the city’s existing traffic hierarchy.
But it’s still not easy because the city was not built for cyclists or pedestrians. It was designed for cars.
“At least, the government is now starting to look into making it safer for people. That’s the biggest change I have seen even though it’s still baby steps,” he said.
*Photos courtesy of Jeffrey Lim