More educational programmes are needed to promote cycling among the general public.
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By Ravindran Raman Kutty
The writer Ravindran Raman Kutty is an award-winning communications practitioner and a fellow of the Institute of Public Relations Malaysia.
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- My recent trip to Europe, especially to Amsterdam, Holland, inspired me to pen my thoughts on cycling. It is extremely interesting to watch office workers, parents, students, teenagers and market goers zigzagging on the streets of Amsterdam.
Many a time, my wife and I were cautioned by the cyclers as they rode past us at high speed and without much noise. They looked so happy riding their bicycles unperturbed by the motor vehicles. Cycling has helped to improve the local air quality as it reduces 65 percent of nitrogen oxides (NOx) emitted into the air per kilometre travelled. (NOx gases are usually produced from the reaction between nitrogen and oxygen during combustion of fuels and they contribute to the formation of smog and acid rain.)
There are more than a billion bicycles in the world, twice as many as automobiles. In recent years bike production had climbed to over 100 million per year (compared to 50 million cars).
Bicycles were introduced during the 19th century and since then have been and are employed for many uses: recreation, work, military, show, sport, etc. In the United States, for example, people use bikes for slimming purposes because cycling burns 600 calories an hour, but in China and other parts of Asia, people use bikes mostly for their transportation needs.
Belgium, Australia, Japan and Finland are among the top 10 countries in the world with the most number of bicycles per capita.
In Belgium, eight percent of all trips are made by bicycle. The average distance cycled per person per day is 0.9 km. Cycling is a national sport for Belgians, who are very serious about their bikes and keep them well maintained with functioning brakes and inflated tyres. When cycling, they would usually wear a helmet and a bright yellow vest to make themselves visible to motorists.
In Switzerland, five percent of regular trips and 10 percent of trips to work are made by bike. In that country, cycling is more than just an activity; it is a healthy way to enjoy nature and the hospitality of the local people. The Swiss even have “Bike to Work“ campaigns when employees cycle to work.
In Japan, 15 percent of trips to work are by bicycle. In recent years, the number of bicycles sold here has gone up to 10 million a year. In Japan, bicycles are widely used as an alternative to cars and a lot of people cycle to the train stations.
Today, more and more Japanese are cycling to work for health reasons and to avoid traffic jams and crowded trains. In that country, crime levels are so low that many people don’t lock their bicycles even when they leave them outside the train stations all day or overnight.
In Finland, nine percent of all trips are made by bike. The average distance cycled per inhabitant per day is 0.7 km.
Although the cycling season in that country traditionally starts in spring or summer, some of them are not afraid of the rain, slush or winter snowstorms. Their love for cycling can be compared with their love for dogs, fishing or the sauna.
In China, 60 percent of the local cyclists in Shanghai (most populous city in China) pedal to work every day. The city is home to 9,430,000 million bicycles and 19,213,200 people.
In Norway, four percent of all trips are made by bicycle. However, in this nation of about 4.94 million people and three million bicycles, 60,000 bikes disappear each year, never to be seen by their owners again.
Malaysia is also promoting cycling. In Kuala Lumpur, more than 10 kilometres of cycling lanes have been constructed. Some 42 stations situated along the Ampang/Sri Petaling and Kelana Jaya LRT lines have "Bike N Ride" services.
An increasing number of local authorities are also adopting bicycle lanes as part of their sustainability or green manifesto.
These include the Petaling Jaya City Council's PJ Cycleway Project in Ara Damansara; Shah Alam City Council's 10km bike lane along Taman Tasik Shah Alam; Kota Kinabalu Municipal Council's 5.3km coastal bike lane linking Tanjung Aru to University Malaysia Sabah; Penang Island City Council's Jalan C.Y. Choy Bicycle Bridge; and Subang Jaya Municipal Council's bicycle lane.
While the enthusiasm shown by the local authorities to construct bicycle lanes is extremely encouraging, the maintenance, safety and design of these lanes are foremost on the minds of those who are serious about cycling.
While Malaysians encourage and welcome zero pollution and zero carbon impact through cycling, they are still apprehensive about cycling in the city. Therefore, more effort must be put into improving safety levels, which can be done through educational programmes, campaigns and promotions via the mass media.
There should be more programmes to promote cycling and increase awareness of cycling among the general public.
Events such as riding a bicycle in the neighbourhood can be organised so that Malaysians become more familiar and comfortable with cycling as an alternative mode of transportation.
In the long term, efforts should be aimed at promoting a cyclist-friendly environment for sustainable development in all neighbourhoods.
An ''All Ages and Abilities Bicycle Network Plan" can be devised to provide an interconnecting system of bicycle lanes and facilities that are comfortable for a broad array of users, such as children, youths and senior citizens.
Events like the international Le Tour de Langkawi cycling race, introduced in 1996, has generated a great amount of publicity for our nation through its international audience. More such sporting activities should be organised to attract more Malaysians to cycling.
Many of us used to cycle to school when we were young. Let's revive the cycling spirit by cycling to the nearby grocery store or club. We will not only reduce our carbon footprint but also save on our medical expenses.
This article is dedicated to World Cycling Day on June 3.
(The views expressed in this commentary are the writer's own.)
Edited by Rema Nambiar