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The Bike-Friendly City

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Jeffrey Lim’s Bicycle Map Project takes KL towards a bike-friendly city

By Mabel Ho and Maya Tan

 

KL-ites are quick to air their grievances when it comes to driving around the city. Yet, it often seems that we are resigned to the time lost to commuting. Traffic has become part of our daily lives, affecting the way we plan each day.

 

Jeffrey Lim, a graphic designer by trade, really wanted to find a solution. He is the driving (or rather, cycling) force behind Cycling Kuala Lumpur, a community project which has led to the creation of a bicycle map of Kuala Lumpur, with some parts of Petaling Jaya (PJ) included.

 

Arriving on his classic gentleman’s bicycle for our interview, Lim had cycled from Sri Hartamas to Damansara Perdana, meaning he had to go through the Penchala Link, a stretch of highway tunnel  where motor vehicles are known to hit the gas pedal hard.

 

While Lim doesn’t recommend the route, he concedes that there aren’t many alternative routes for bicycles west of the city centre. He points it out to on the map which he, and other cycling enthusiasts have created over the past two years.

 

Completed in 2014, Lim tells us that it was a labour of love. Together with a group of volunteers, he mapped out Kuala Lumpur and PJ, and all the routes that viable for cycling. “The map project is about connecting the entire city by cycling.”

 

The Cycling Kuala Lumpur bicycle map is the product of collaboration by volunteers. Image courtesy Jeff Lim.

 

What started as a simple project grew organically to become something of a starting point for civic-consciousness, social activism and sustainable living. The map is more than just a map; it also has a basic guide to cycling in KL, as well as points that denote bike shops where repairs can be made. Lim says it’s intended to build confidence around cycling: “Because there are no cycling facilities in the cities, there are a lot of blurred lines as to whether cyclists are allowed on the road.”

“What started as a simple project grew organically to become something of a starting point for civic-consciousness, social activism and sustainable living.”

But beyond cycling, there lie the questions of safety, parking issues, weather issues, crime - such a project takes on a heap of obstacles. “A project like this covers a lot of ground. You have to be answerable to a lot of things, so we have to find ways to provide solutions,” says Lim. “When you want to walk the talk, cycling is just one aspect. If you really want to think about sustainability, this is just one of the projects.”

 

Lim started out with a “blank” base map of the city. Having had experience in map design, this wasn’t completely foreign to him, but he needed help with data collection. Lim handed this basic map and a few guidelines to volunteers, who spent their spare time recording routes. The map became a crowdsourced effort.

 

“The brief was to mark down any route that you could cycle on… like what would be a really busy road, a quieter road, where you would use a pedestrian path, where you can cross… but it’s up to them to mark as much as they like. I didn’t want to limit them at the beginning, and I got all sorts of feedback.”

 

Once the areas were marked, Lim would go with the volunteer who marked that particular section and “look into details such as road directions, rain shelter, hazards and elevation.”

 

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“The brief was to mark down any route that you could cycle on… like what would be a really busy road, a quieter road, where you would use a pedestrian path, where you can cross… and I got all sorts of feedback.” Image courtesy Jeff Lim.

 

The final map is multilingual, in English and Bahasa Malaysia and Chinese, and is currently distributed for free at certain points in the city. “I knew I could only reach a certain target audience, like the urban crowd and those who spoke English, because the whole project was in English,” says Lim. “That’s why we had to engage some cultural ambassadors: people who could speak different languages. They were all volunteers for the project.”

“When you want to walk the talk, cycling is just one aspect. If you really want to think about sustainability, this is just one of the projects.”

In the past few years, various levels of government have been seen to promote urban cycling. So how did local councils react? “It’s an independent project, so they were inquisitive about what this project was about. We showed them our studies, took them for a survey ride; we also showed them what commuters and cyclists would face and how it would help them in deciding their future routes.”

 

Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL), KL’s local council took their efforts seriously. Construction on a “bicycle highway” running from Mid Valley to Dataran Merdeka began in November 2014, and was completed in April 2015, while two more bike routes are in the planning. Elsewhere in the city, DBKL has created shared pathways between cyclists and pedestrians, however Lim feels that the return of cycling as a mode of transportation is still far off.

 

He says: “DBKL has been including share systems with pedestrian sidewalks throughout the city, but as a viable transportation alternative, cycling is still not high on their agenda.”

 

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Jeff and fellow bike-enthusiasts consistently traverse the city to discover the best biking routes. Image courtesy Jeff Lim.

 

Meanwhile, Majlis Bandaraya Petaling Jaya (MBPJ) has also been looking into a proposed cycle network comprising a 56km loop. Lim and the cycling community have given feedback on these plans too.

 

The proposed PJ City Cycleways network aligns with Lim’s objectives of reducing traffic pollution and improving connectivity for people of all backgrounds. However, he reveals that these efforts are slow to be realised.

 

“While [local councils] do see it as a viable form of transport, they can only do so much; there are a lot of legal implications. When you talk about cycling as a viable transportation system, you have to think of the bigger picture,” he says.

 

So what would it take to make cycling a more realistic option for more people? “It would take a lot of involvement from Jabatan Pengangkutan Jalanraya (JPJ), the Department of Road Transport, and a bigger working committee of a variety of these departments.”

 

Jeff is heartened to note that KTM Komuter has launched a Ride N Ride campaign, allowing full-sized bicycles to be transported on their trains.

 

In the meantime, Lim and his cycling volunteers have created a map which will help to make cycling more accessible, even with our current road infrastructure.

 

“Online we post updates & correct errors as best we can. An updated version should be in print after the MRT’s  second line is launched, plus several other developments to be announced and put into the works,” he adds.

 

There is more work to be done as Lim reveals that the next push will be towards resurveying the routes and digitising the mapping information.

 

“There are a lot of complexities and challenges, but I’m taking it one step at a time and every step is positive,” says Lim.

 

Lim received a Think City grant for a separate project that looked at ways to improve the streets of Downtown KL.

 

This story was produced in collaboration with Poskod.my

 

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