Suvarnabhumi's green path is a hit with cyclists
Naysayers will no doubt mumble about security risks or even damage to the floodplain but the folks who run Airports of Thailand (AOT) are confident that the new bike lane at Suvarnabhumi Airport is doing much more good than harm.
“It is the first of its kind in the world,” says Noppakao Dejudom, AOT’s creative director. “It’s also part of our [corporate social responsibility] CSR programme, a strategy on which we, like other organisations, are judged and it can only help improve our image.
News of the bike lane, which opened on March 23, quickly made the rounds of the social networks and within days had become a popular place for pedalling action.
“I think we can say it’s a success,” says Noppakao, pointing to records that show that some 1,400 cyclists regularly use the lane in the morning, 700 in the evening and more than 2,000 turning up on Saturdays and Sundays.
Costing Bt28.5 million, the 23.5-kilometre two-lane track was developed by the Life Cycling Club on an old access road bordering an irrigation canal. The green all-weather slip-resistant track is paved with rubberised asphalt concrete. Australian technology standards were used as the benchmark.
“One reason we built the bike lane was to do away with the all-too-frequent accidents involving cars and cyclists on Suvarnabhumi Road 3, which runs beside the runway,” Noppakao says.
Squadron Leader Sita Divari, AOT chairman and independent director, didn’t want to ban cyclists from the road, as he was well aware of the health benefits of biking, so decided to offer them a safe alternative.
“Because the lane is situated inside closed territory, we deal with potential security risks by having all cyclists exchange their ID cards for AOT badges, which are printed with an emergency number. Arrival and departure times are also recorded,” says Noppakao.
Signs showing the cyclist’s progress are posted every 250 metres along the entire length of the 23.5km track, which is one way so once you are on it there is no turning back – you are committed until the end. Coconut palms provide shade and the lane is lined by the irrigation canal on the right and an earth embankment on the left.
“The green colour helps cyclists to see the road at twilight. We plan to add lamp posts the whole length of the track so cyclists can ride at night,” says Noppakao.
“Of course, there are a certain number of rules. For example, you must ride on the left side and give a hand signal before going to the right side. Helmets are compulsory and cyclists must be sure they are able to cover the distance without a problem.”
Mobile toilets are provided at the starting point after the checkpoint and during peak times, there were vendors offering snacks and drinks. The AOT has cracked down on this casual commerce and set up an official snack stall at the checkpoint.
Postings on the social media include a picture of a cobra in honour of the former name of this area – Nong Ngoo Hao – cobra swamp.
“We can’t deny that there are cobras in the area but cyclists should be safe as long as they stay on their bikes. We strongly advise against sitting on the grass. If you want to relax, do so in the concrete area,” says Noppakao, adding that the AOT is ready to provide first aid in case of bike spills or even snakebites.
“We at AOT are always worried about geese being sucked into a plane’s engines. And while people do fish in the canal, this is strictly not allowed. Cycling can help protect the birds while preventing unlawful fishing.”
The AOT is not stopping its CSR efforts with the bike lane. Noppakao, who is also a chairman of the AOT Cycling Club, points out the adjacent clubhouse under construction, with the full backing of AOT director Rawiwan Netrakhawesna. Located on 30 rai in in Lat Krabang’s Rajathewa area, the clubhouse will offer home-theatre viewings, ballroom dancing, spa treatments and dining. A fulsal pitch as well as facilities for canoeing and kayaking surround the club.
“But mainly, we will focus on cycling,” says Noppakao. We will have a school that teaches bike repairs. After construction is completed, there will also be a new entrance to the bike lane. Cyclists will be able to come with their families and those who don’t ride can relax in the clubhouse. We also have bicycle parking and showers and we are aiming to keep the prices as low as possible so everyone can benefit.”
“We hope too that our initiative will serve as a model for other countries in Asean,” he concludes.
Come in for a landing
_ The Green Bike Lane is open daily from 6am to 5.30pm.
_ On Thursday, Nation Broadcasting Corporation holds its cycling event Khon Khao Nation Chuan Pan at Suvarnabhumi.
_ Register by Tuesday at www.nationtv.tv/event/2014/bike/
_ For details, call (02) 338 3681-2.