THE VIRTUOUS CYCLE
Bangkok is quickly becoming a cycling city,a trend that may help improve personal fitnessand commute times as well as ease trafficcongestion in the long term
On certain Bangkok streets andparks such as Lumphini or SuanLuang Rama IX, it has become commonto see fully equipped cyclists speedingalong at peak hours. Drivers maysuddenly find themselves surroundedby caravans of bicycles on the road atnight. Even Suvarnabhumi Airport hasturned part of its land into a cyclecircuit that was ranked the world’s bestairport bike track by CNN.
Cycling in the city has boomedover the past few years, leading tocompatibility questions in view ofthe city’s notoriously heavy cartraffic. In late January, a paneldiscussion, “Bangkok – City ofCycles”, considered such issues atthe Foreign Correspondents’ Club ofThailand. Green explorers, ecologistsand bloggers shared their experienceson the problems surrounding urbancycling.
Greg Jorgenson, a cyclingenthusiast and 14-year residentof Bangkok, began biking eight years ago as a means of exploring thecity’s back streets and communities.“There is no better way to goaround and explore things behind thescenes,” Mr Jorgenson said.
Individual exploration of the cityis not the only new trend. Severaltravel agents have been providingcycling tours for tourists who prefersomething more ecological andintimate than a 32-seat coach tour.Bill Tuffin is one such ecotourismoperator. His company, GrasshopperAdventures, is considered one ofAsia’s leading bicycle tour companies,offering routes through Thailand,Vietnam, Bhutan, Uzbekistan andother countries.
As the Bangkok branch manager,Mr Tuffin organizes more personaltrips for exploring the city, such as“Where Bangkok Began”, an itineraryaround one of the capital’s earliestcommunities. “It’s a six-hour ride butonly about 15 kilometres so it’s not alot of riding,” he said. “We get into acommunity and tourists meet peoplein that community, we have dinnerin someone’s home. The foundingcommunity includes mostlyChinese-Portuguese, Muslim andThai, so they can see differentreligions and ethnic groups.”
While Mr Tuffin sees cycling asa recreational pursuit, Thanyarat Doksone, a blogger who founded the“Bike to Work – BKK” Facebookcommunity, has fallen for it in a morepractical way.
“The reason I started biking wasbecause my first job was as a morningnews producer. I had to go to work at4am and the ferry wasn’t running yet,so I had to find a way to go to work onmy own. I’ve been biking to work eversince, and cycling in my view is a wayto commute.”She created the Facebook page toencourage Bangkokians to startcycling to work. The page has almost8,000 likes, and Ms Thanyarat snapsphotos of commuting cyclists and letspeople share their experiences. “It is away to promote biking for beginners,because the best way is to show thatthere are people who do it every day,so why don’t you do that as well?”Some of the posts have led todebates on whether extending bicyclelanes or improving safety should beprioritized. Ms Thanyarat also givesreaders a glimpse at her own bicyclecollection, including a 1984 vintagebike from a garage in Sam Yan and thetouring bike she uses to commute, withits laptop storage and slim frame thatallows her to squeeze through trafficat rush hour.
Despite a number of individual andBangkok Metropolitan Administration(BMA) campaigns to boost cycling’spopularity, Oy Kanjanavanit, anenvironmental activist, is unsatisfiedby the progress.
“People are longing to reconnectwith the environment and are urged tohave fun, but in terms of using a bikeas a mode of transportation to solveBangkok’s traffic issues, the manytiny projects for bikes have beencounteracted by the huge projects forcars,” she said.Ms Oy believes that as long asBangkok gives cars the priority, thebike boom will not be sustainable.“We need to rethink the overall trafficflow, as the roads were designed forfour-wheel vehicles.”
She has also created a forthcomingmobile phone application thatprovides bike route maps and letspeople report problems such asroad deterioration and unworkablebike lanes. The information willbe sorted and sent to the relevantgovernment departments to address.She believes that citizen actionthrough the application will helpimprove some of the issues thatstop people from cycling.
The collective efforts of individualsand organizations are helpingBangkok overcome its cyclingteething issues, and will hopefullylead to a more sustainable andeco-friendly urban environment in thefuture.