The new Kuala Lumpur bicycle lanes has been in the spotlight for the wrong reasons over the past month.
Amid the furore, it’s easy to miss the larger picture: Kuala Lumpur is simply keeping up with a global trend. The bicycle lanes was a step in the right direction.
Cities around the world, including those closer to home like Chiang Mai, Kota Kinabalu and Penang, have been building bicycle lanes to promote green and sustainable urban mobility.
The Chiang Mai lanes are notable in that it was funded via the World Bank’s Global Environment Facility. It also successfully increased the non-motorised transportation (NMT) modal share in the city from 4% to 10%.
Photo credit: BicycleThailand
The World Bank’s support for NMT echoes the message coming out of WUF9 — that encouraging NMT such as walking and cycling is the way forward for urban spaces.
That fits into the Sustainable Development Goal 11.2 outlined by the United Nations, which aims by 2030 to provide:
“Access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.”
Expanding The Network
The logical follow-up would be to expand the bicycle lanes across Greater Kuala Lumpur so that cyclists have a bigger mobility range.
Beyond infrastructure, proper legislation could be put in place and a growing cycling culture could be groomed further. In fact, some efforts to this end are already underway.
For instance, some Prasarana’s train stations already have bicycle parking stations. Motion Digest also understands that Kuala Lumpur is looking to fast-track the gazette of cycling lanes in the near future.
In future, local authorities of Petaling Jaya, Shah Alam and Subang Jaya could plan for their own bicycle lanes and perhaps tap the World Bank for potential funding — which some of these cities may already be in the process of.
These lanes could be developed in integration with the Kuala Lumpur lanes, adding a viable NMT option for first/last-mile connectivity and complementing both increasing rail access and the growth of bike-sharing services locally.
However, alongside policies to incentivise NMT and discourage personal cars, successfully pushing these initiatives forward may help boost public transportation ridership down the road.
Bumpy Roads Ahead
This would not be easy: key hurdles to navigate include space availability, funding and working around existing road networks that are not conducive to NMTs and pedestrians.
The biggest challenge is justifying the cost. For example, Kuala Lumpur’s 11-kilometre bike lanes cost roughly RM363,636 per kilometre.
These aren’t fully-fledged bike lanes — a fully protected bike lane, which may be necessary considering the traffic conditions in the Klang valley, would be far more pricey.
The 12.5-kilometre bike lane along Penang’s coast, meantime, cost RM30 million overall or RM2.4 million per kilometre. A further 39.3km in 2018 will cost RM1.14 million per kilometre, reports say.
To be fair, the bike lane costs in Kuala Lumpur compares favourably to the cost of building a single lane trunk road.
A width of about 7 metres would cost from RM4 million per kilometre, according to local construction players, not including additional costs associated with earthworks, soil mitigation works, sewerage adjustments, building bridges and so on.
While bike lanes are cheaper than building more roads, people may be sceptical as to whether the expenditure is worth the opportunity costs. That, and scepticism towards cycling in the city, could make the idea a hard sell, especially if the works disrupt established transportation habits.
In a nutshell, people are creatures of habit and changing mobility habits, however positive, causes discomfort and a natural resistance.
This is seen with how the recent rail projects were initially received with uproar over the cost and inconvenience yet are now used with much fuss.
Even if the local councils can get the bike lanes built, getting more Malaysians to cycle on them is also difficult.
The nation has placed much emphasis on personal car ownership for decades, which had meant public transportation including NMT had taken a back seat.
While that driving habit is slowly changing for Malaysians, cycling in particular is still quite new to many.
This means the authorities should push an education agenda to raise awareness on the benefits of cycling, and more broadly, NMT and car-lite urban mobility.
In short, navigating these hurdles comes down to political will. A top-down approach may be more effective to get things moving, like what is seen in China.
Local councillors, MPs and even ministers at the state and federal levels should spearhead green mobility and NMT initiatives while keeping constructive engagement with other stakeholders.
The Big Picture
While the hurdles are challenging to pursue car-lite mobility such as bike lanes, the pay-off could be immensely rewarding for local municipalities.
One instructive example of how that future could look like can be seen across the Causeway.
Singapore is ramping up its park connector network (PCN) and bicycle lanes as part of a larger drive to promote NMT and reduce the number of cars on its roads.
That coincides with the heightening competition amongst bike-sharing service providers. Ride-hailing players like Uber and Grab are also going into the bike-sharing space in the republic.
Another interesting example is Leipzig, one of Germany’s fastest-growing cities.
It is developing a car-reduced city centre to proactively manage congestion risk that comes with population increase.
Among others, Leipzig now restricts car access in public spaces and does not allow transit car traffic. It also discouraged personal car use by reducing parking availability in public spaces and imposing parking charges.
Leipzig also restricts delivery traffic to between 5pm and 11pm and imposes a low speed limit of 20km per hour. All these culminate in less-than-ideal conditions for personal vehicle use.
In tandem, it provides easy access to public transportation such as trams as the carrot. Notably, the city is bike-friendly with 3,000 bicycle parking spots and most of its city centre comprises pedestrian-only zones.
The result? Only 19% of trips to its city centre use cars while the rest use environmentally friendly options.
The economic spill-over includes boosting property values and promoting retail activity as pedestrian and other walk-by traffic volume increases. Tourism also gets a boost.
For Malaysia, PCN and car-free districts could be the next stage after getting the basics, such as bike lane networks, right.
The momentum is already there with the Kuala Lumpur bicycle lanes. If Greater Kuala Lumpur can build on that momentum, it can push towards being a green, car-lite urban centre and walk the WUF9 talk.
Find out more information about cycling in Kuala Lumpur.
Download Kuala Lumpur’s City Cycling Map here.