By Carolyn Hong
Is it even possible to cycle in Kuala Lumpur? Most city folk would shake their heads in horror but cyclists insist it’s not just possible but, in fact, better than getting snared in the city’s notorious traffic.
Graphic designer Jeffrey Lim, 35, is one of them. He cycles almost everywhere, and is producing a map of Kuala Lumpur dedicated to cyclists. Cyclists need no longer hazard guesses about the best and safest routes. Jeffrey and a group of volunteers have charted it out.
“I know more than a hundred people who now commute around the city mostly on bicycle,” he said, adding that this movement started with environmentalist Gurmit Singh in the 1980s.
Cycling around the city takes a bit of planning. Cyclists have to think of things that wouldn’t ever cross the minds of motorists. Is the road wide enough for cars and bicycles? Are there pavements for emergency escapes? Is it a major bus route? How fast do vehicles travel on that road?
Lim’s cycling map aims to give some of these answers. It marks out routes where cars generally travel at under 60km/h, and routes through parks including one through University Malaya which lets cyclists avoid the Federal Highway. Crossings are particularly important as they enable cyclists to get across major roads. The crossings include overhead pedestrian crossings, motorcycle lanes, traffic lights and rail crossings.
It was drawn up with the help of 300 volunteers.
“The map can be the basis for future bicycle lanes in KL,” Lim said, adding that the government could make a start by installing half pipes on the stairs of pedestrian bridges to make it easier for bicycles to be wheeled up.
The project began a year ago when Lim discovered that existing maps were often inaccurate or outdated. He put together a detailed map of KL’s city streets from Bangsar to Cheras, and gave copies to cyclists to chart the routes that they know.
The map, although still in progress, is now available online. He also gives it away for free to requests via the Cycling Kuala Lumpur Facebook page.
City cycling was a big fad about two years ago, with 500 to 700 people cycling on Kuala Lumpur’s busiest streets every last Friday of the month to claim equal right to the roads. The Critical Mass group has dwindled to around 50 but some authorities have taken notice of the needs of cyclists. George Town in Penang now has bicycle lanes, and a similar plan is in the making for Petaling Jaya in Selangor.
In fact, cycling is so popular in George Town that dozens of bicycle rental shops have sprung up in recent years, bringing life back into the old city.
The numbers are, however, still miniscule for Kuala Lumpur which is much more unfriendly to cyclists.
Lim’s bicycle adventures began in 2007 when he was working as a graphic designer in Singapore. It started when he spotted a man on a classic bicycle in Little India. For this designer, it was a ‘wow’ moment. The bicycle was a work of beauty. He hunted down a similar old-fashioned working bicycle, and found one for S$120. He discovered Singapore on that bicycle, and later began building his own bikes from parts.
When he returned to Malaysia in 2009 to start his own design studio, he continued to build bicycles. He now cycles as much as he can, even from Bangsar to Ampang. The car is only used for ferrying heavy things or if there is no feasible cycling route. He’s now testing an electric bike which he made with batteries stowed in a satchel slung over the rack. It looks like a regular bicycle until you see Lim zooming with ease up the hills.
He said aspiring bicycle commuters should first get comfortable cycling around their neighborhoods, and build a network of cyclist friends for advice before venturing further.
And oh, they should use his map too, of course.