On Your Bike!

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By Mariam Mokhtar

Bicycle-friendly Amsterdam

In April, *Perak Menteri Besar Zambry Abdul Kadir went around Ipoh and the nearby areas on his bicycle claiming that he preferred this method of meeting Perakians, to his usual walkathon.

On April 1 he visited the Kinta Heights flats, Cherry Park apartments in Jalan Tun Abdul Razak and the Ipoh Municipal Council flats in Jalan Ashby.

A few weeks later, he led a group of 700 cyclists on another 50‑km tour around Ipoh. He started his ride at the crack of dawn to visit Kampung Ulu Chepor in Chemor, Kampung Manjoi, Kampung Temiang and Kampung Seri Kinta. According to the MB, cycling enabled him to meet the people and hence address the issues of cleanliness and clogged drains.

“I prefer this approach to meet the people instead of the normal formal visits. This way, people feel free to mix with us and share problems affecting them. The bicycle tour attracted many from the younger generation from schools, colleges, universities as well as the working community. I feel this is the best way we can mingle without protocols”.

The MB’s attempt to meet Perakians is commendable but has attracted mixed responses. “He has hit on a bright idea but will he keep it up and look into the many problems each community faces? Someone said he is only emulating what the Penang CM started in 2009.”

A resident of Greentown made a barbed comment, “The MBs in Malaysia act more like health inspectors checking drains and rubbish. This shows a breakdown in the basic services provided by the state.”

Another person was more sanguine, “I hope all politicians from both sides of the political divide will meet the rakyat in this way.”

Many of Ipoh’s residents, especially its students, once relied on bicycles as their normal mode of transport. With more roads, an increase in heavy traffic and an abundance of inconsiderate drivers, cyclists have been slowly edged off their bicycles. The lack of an efficient public transport system has forced people to use their cars or motorbikes, thus increasing traffic congestion.

Zambry may have found bicycling in and around Ipoh a thrilling experience. He was surrounded by several other cyclists and no doubt, would have had a police escort and dedicated traffic police presence to control traffic flow.

What of the normal, everyday bicycle user? Some claim that they put their lives at risk once they negotiate Ipoh’s roads. Lorry and bus drivers claim not to see them. Other road users have no consideration for them at all.

Two years ago in Bercham, an 11-year-old pupil of SJKC Bercham was cycling to school when he was hit by a school bus at a junction. The upshot of the tragedy was that the chairman of the school, advised parents not to allow their children to cycle to school.

This knee-jerk reaction is misleading and the statement was issued before the facts were established. Despite this, dangerous drivers should be punished in a court of law, and guidance should be given to all road-users who are not well-versed in road safety.

Not all parents own cars or motorbikes, or have the time to ferry their children everywhere. Some can ill-afford the excessive petrol costs or private van-hire charges. Even with reasonable bus-fares, not every child may live near a bus route.

We talk of wanting a greener nation, with a reduced carbon footprint. We desire an environment of reduced pollution, less congestion and safer roads for all, especially pedestrians and bicyclists. It would help if cycle lanes and cycle racks outside shops or offices were provided. Visitors to Amsterdam, London and Paris, will have noticed the hordes of bicyclists in cycle lanes. Bicycle-couriers travel faster in these cities during peak hours. If Ipohites adopted this attitude, we’ll have a less polluted city and fewer obese children and adults.

Road safety is everyone’s responsibility, including the bicycle users. Cyclists share some of the blame in accidents and they must be aware of the basic highway rules.

Motorists complain of cyclists riding without lights when it is dark or riding on the wrong side of the road and pedestrians fear cyclists mowing them down when they ride on the pavements. Ignoring red lights or not using hand signals, to indicate their intention to turn, will only increase the risk of an accident. Straying into the path of a vehicle is another problem associated with cyclists.

Although wearing a helmet is a personal choice, the most important thing is for cyclists to wear clothes that make them visible to other road users.

In major cities around the world, some mayors and leaders cycle to work as a matter of course and not part of a publicity stunt. If Zambry would also like to encourage a greener and healthier lifestyle, he could make several provisions for the state government to improve road-conditions, have strict enforcement and build a highly efficient public transport system. Education is key, but involvement at state level is critical, at all times and not just prior to an election.

*Sources: The Star and The New Straits Times