Magic trans­port pill

Cy­cling is not just ‘for fun’. It can solve our traf­fic jams, re­duce pol­lu­tion, im­prove health and cre­ate more friendly cities.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Outdoors - By AN­DREW SIA star2­green@thestar.com.my

CY­CLING is much more than “just a fun and healthy hobby”.

Cy­cling can re­duce traf­fic jams, cre­ate more friendly com­mu­ni­ties and give the el­derly, young and poor a re­li­able means of trans­port.

It can also cut air and noise pol­lu­tion, de­crease na­tional health­care costs, calm down fre­netic traf­fic and make cities more live­able.

Fi­nally, cy­cling has been found to in­crease hap­pi­ness – and who can quan­tify that in ring­git terms?

In other words, when coun­tries in­vest in pro­mot­ing cy­cling, it will gen­er­ate ben­e­fits for the whole coun­try, not just for cy­clists.

In that sense, cy­cling is ac­tu­ally a pa­tri­otic way to build the na­tion – in a slightly dif­fer­ent way from tra­di­tional think­ing, but per­haps some­thing we need to se­ri­ously ex­am­ine.

Im­prove na­tional health

Other coun­tries have al­ready stud­ied the ac­tual costs and ben­e­fits of cy­cling – com­plete with hard statis­tics.

In Bri­tain, it was found that cy­cling at a leisurely pace for 50km a week (for about 30 min­utes over 10km per week­day to and from work) cuts can­cer and heart dis­ease by 45% and 46% re­spec­tively.

This was the re­sult of a five-year study of 263,450 commuters by Glas­gow Univer­sity, pub­lished in the Bri­tish Med­i­cal Jour­nal.

The “Ben­e­fits Of In­vest­ing In Cy­cling”, an ex­ec­u­tive sum­mary by Dr Rachel Al­dred from the Univer­sity of West­min­ster, stated that if peo­ple in ur­ban Eng­land and Wales cy­cled and walked as much as peo­ple do in Copen­hagen, the NHS (Bri­tain’s Na­tional Health Ser­vice) could save around £17bil (RM109­bil) within 20 years.

Less jams and pol­lu­tion

A World Bank study has shown that traf­fic con­ges­tion causes RM20­bil of eco­nomic losses in the Klang Val­ley – that’s RM54mil a day!

The ma­jor­ity of this cost is lost pro­duc­tiv­ity, fol­lowed by wasted fuel and en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age caused by ex­haust fumes.

Un­like cars, bikes don’t emit poi­sonous fumes or en­gine clat­ter. Cars gob­ble up much more road/ park­ing space and fi­nan­cial re­sources than bi­cy­cles – for ex­am­ple, 10 bi­cy­cles can fit into one car park space.

And of course, it’s far cheaper to build bike lanes than high­ways. Even Ger­many is now build­ing a net­work of “bi­cy­cle high­ways”.

Sin­ga­pore is now push­ing for cy­cling in a big way, build­ing a net­work of bike paths all over the is­land – it will spend S$1.5bil (RM4.5bil) on its Walk­ing and Cy­cling Plan.

Be­sides bike lanes, cy­cling in the hot, sweaty trop­ics needs other sup­port­ing in­fra­struc­ture, and de­vel­op­ers in Sin­ga­pore have been re­quired (since July 2016) to build fa­cil­i­ties for cy­clists – such as show­ers, lock­ers and bi­cy­cle park­ing.

LRT/MRT sta­tions

Why strug­gle to find car park­ing at an LRT sta­tion or wait for­ever for a feeder bus when you can just buy a cheap RM150 bi­cy­cle, and then ride for a mere five min­utes (over say 2km) to the near­est LRT sta­tion? (tinyurl.com/star2-cy­cle)

At Sun­suria City, a new de­vel­op­ment just south of Pu­tra­jaya, a bi­cy­cle lane is planned to link the hous­ing ar­eas and Xi­a­men Univer­sity to the nearby Salak Tinggi sta­tion on the KLIA–KL Sen­tral ERL (Ex­press Rail Link).

More friendly cities

“Cy­cling en­ables peo­ple to in­ter­act so­cially and feel more at home in their lo­cal com­mu­nity,” says a re­port by the depart­ment of trans­port, Queens­land, Aus­tralia.

Al­dred from the Univer­sity of West­min­ster notes that peo­ple liv­ing on a street with­out through mo­tor traf­fic knew and sup­ported their neigh­bours to a much greater ex­tent than peo­ple on other streets with “rat-run­ning traf­fic”.

But we don’t re­ally need for­eign ex­perts to tell us this – we can sense this for our­selves. In our small towns – such as Kam­par, Perak – where cars have not yet over­whelmed bi­cy­cles, we can see how even chil­dren and old peo­ple cy­cle to the morn­ing mar­ket.

Boost­ing busi­ness

In tra­di­tional towns where park­ing is tight, it has been shown that cy­cling is also good for busi­ness.

For in­stance, on New York high streets, busi­ness rose by about 25% when cy­cle lanes were in­tro­duced, ac­cord­ing to a re­port in The Guardian (tinyurl.com/star2-busi­ness).

Al­dred adds, “Cy­cling can help cre­ate the kinds of places peo­ple want to shop, as in Am­s­ter­dam’s Utrecht­ses­traat, where thriv­ing in­de­pen­dent busi­nesses hap­pily co­ex­ist with streams of par­ents car­ry­ing chil­dren on cargo bi­cy­cles.”

In­deed, a na­tional US study found that for each US$1mil (RM4.27mil) in­vested in cy­cling in­fra­struc­ture, it cre­ated 11.4 lo­cal jobs com­pared to 7.8 jobs for road-only projects.

Everybody has trans­port

Many peo­ple in ur­ban Malaysia have be­come “taxi driv­ers” for their kids and el­derly rel­a­tives.

But in Hol­land and Den­mark, up to 41% of peo­ple com­mute reg­u­larly by bike be­cause it’s easy to do and it feels safe – decades of in­vest­ment in cy­cling in­fra­struc­ture have made it that way (tinyurl.com/ star2-hol­land).

In Am­s­ter­dam, one can see ev­ery­one – chil­dren, women, ex­ec­u­tives in suits and even the el­derly – cy­cling around. In­deed, in Hol­land, 20% of 80-84-year-olds reg­u­larly cy­cle.

Cy­cling helps the poor too. “Many poor peo­ple strug­gle to get around with­out a car, with pub­lic trans­port ex­pen­sive or lim­ited, or strug­gle to pay for their car,” Al­dred notes. “In­vest­ing in cy­cling en­ables them to ac­cess jobs and ser­vices and re­duce their need to own and use cars.”

Hap­pi­ness

It’s stress­ful when fight­ing traf­fic jams ev­ery day.

In trans­port eco­nom­ics, such time spent trav­el­ling is de­fined as “lost time”, says Al­dred. But, aca­demics now ar­gue that peo­ple can en­joy and value trans­port time.

In­deed, in our pre­vi­ous Star2 ar­ti­cle “Root­ing for a green route”, those Malaysians who reg­u­larly cy­cle to work find it to be a happy and healthy time, some­thing like an ad­ven­ture ev­ery day (tinyurl. com/star2-green).

Con­clu­sion

Cy­cling is a more healthy, friendly and hu­man mode of trans­port.

It re­duces traf­fic jams, cuts pol­lu­tion and makes cities more live­able.

It can boost busi­ness in down­town ar­eas.

Build­ing cy­cling in­fra­struc­ture costs a frac­tion of in­vest­ment in cars and roads.

And it’s a hap­pier way to get round con­gested cities.

“If a magic pill were in­vented that could gen­er­ate all of th­ese ben­e­fits, we would be fall­ing over our­selves to buy it,” says the ar­ti­cle in The Guardian.

“As it is, no magic is re­quired, just steady, long-term plan­ning and in­vest­ment, and a com­mit­ment to the hum­ble bi­cy­cle, so that more of us can en­joy the sim­ple, life-giv­ing joy of cy­cling from A to B.”

In­deed, cy­cling should be seen as a pa­tri­otic method of na­tion build­ing.

Na­tion build­ing and na­tional unity are the prime goals of the Ride for Malaysia or­gan­ised by the Star Me­dia Group and Sun­suria Ber­had. The event will be held on July 30. For more in­for­ma­tion and registration see: sites. thestar.com.my/ride­for­malaysia.

— AN­DREW SIA/The Star

It’s easy to take your folded bike onto the LRT.

— Filepic

Full car parks are not a prob­lem for some­one who cy­cles to work reg­u­larly.

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