Biking in Bangkok
Life on two wheels
Furious at the number of new cars on the road, the Green World Foundation pushes its charter for a more bike-friendly city with the launch of a new bike mapWith the government's first-car buyer scheme having already added some 300,000 cars to our roads and more than double that number likely to follow before the end of the year, Bangkok's cyclists could be forgiven for wondering if there is any room at all for them on the city's streets.
"Quite apart from the traffic congestion, the scheme also causes social inequality," says an indignant Dr Saranarat Kanjanavanit, secretary-general of Green World Foundation, which recently launched the Bangkok Bike Map, the first of its kind in the Kingdom. "Only half the people living in Bangkok drive cars but they take up all the road space. So what happens to the other half? Roads surely are supposed to be for everyone."
Cycling, she points out, is a solution to urban ills: it reduces air pollution and global warming while promoting health, road safety and the economy. The foundation and Thailand Cycling Club even launched the Bangkok City Bike project to encourage people to leave their cars at home and get on their bikes and despite the success of the first-car scheme, continue to campaign for Bangkok to be a cycling city.
Part of the project is the Bangkok Bike Map, which contains 126 maps of Bangkok's inner ring roads surveyed by volunteer cyclists, among them Rasada Photipantong. This book also offers ways to get round obstacles and stay safe on rides, lists bike groups and shops, and tells the reader how to connect with several mass transit systems including train and ferryboat. Safety levels are indicated in three colours: green, yellow and red.
"Bangkok has no bikeways," Saranarat says. "Our aim is to find routes that are convenient and safe and which avoid the road. It is a way to make Bangkokians' lives better."
Mongkol Vijarana, vice president of Thailand Cycling Club, is convinced cyclists will find the maps useful.
"I have talked about bike routes on the inner ring roads with various governors of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration. When Apirak Kosayodhin was governor, he adjusted the 200-km-long paths on 20 lines. The inner ring road in between the city and the outskirts can be adapted for bikers to ride on it. It features 46 kilometres of street lines from Charan Sanitwong crossing Bangkok Bridge toward Rama III, Klong Toei, Queen Sirikit National Convention Center, Sukhumvit, Phetchaburi, Rama IX, Ratchadaphisek, Vibhavadi-Rangsit, Wong Sawang and Rama VII before rotating back to Charan Sanitwong and they all connect on the foundation's bike map. The obstacles for pedestrians, the disabled and cyclists along the paths consist of electricity posts and street furniture," he explains.
In trying to convince both Bangkokians and the city fathers for be more friendly towards two wheels, the foundation is looking to the Colombian capital Bogota, which has been working hard to establish a more sustainable transport system by creating a network of bike paths covering most of the city. Unlike Bangkok, Bogota is upgrading the bus system and restricting cars in the city. The first move towards the increased sustainable transport system was taken by former mayor Enrique Penalosa back in 1998 and it was he who turned the capital into a safe cycling city.
"After the success of Bogota, other cities followed suit. The social advantages are massive: decreased traffic jams and a liveable city, parking areas turned into public parks, community libraries, better weather, and most importantly, a four-fold decrease in crime," says Saranarat. "Bangkok has the potential to be a safe cycling city because the land is flat while Bogota's streets have lots of slopes.
"Our government should change its way of thinking from developing a city for cars to an urban centre for humans. There are many examples we can study," says Saranarat. "Today, the bike isn't just only a symbol of environmental endurance but also social endurance. It reduces differences and makes people feel more equal. Bogota can prove it."
FOLD IT UP AND GO
"Bangkok Bike Map" is priced at Bt80 and available at bookstores. It's also on the Web at Map.nostramap.com.
PEDALLING THROUGH THE PAGES
To gauge the rising popularity of bicycles among Thai urban hipsters, look no further than the newsstands, where you'll find Crank magazine.
Retailing for Bt90, this month's edition profiles Ernesto Colnago, founder of the Italian high-end road-racing bicycle manufacturer and takes a look at Craft, an innovative bicycle made of second-hand golf clubs by an instructor at Silpakorn University.
There are articles about bike hire in Paris, biker street fashions, photos of young women on bicycles and an interview with singer and actor Leo Put who talks about his touring bike.
"We believe that bikes are more than just for riding. They're a lifestyle choice," says editor Pirak Anurakyawachon. "We also want to appeal to readers in the AEC, so our text is in both English and Thai."
There's also Bicycles United, a free online magazine at BicyclesUnited.com. Like Crank, articles are in both English and Thai
The latest edition has an article headlined "Vintage" about the birth of the bicycle.
Regular columns include "About the Bike", "Cycling Community", "Cyclist Persona", "Urban Biker" and "Travel".
"Actually when I first started on cycling, I had no idea of the trend that was coming, I was just keen to fulfil my quest for information. I only realised later that cycling was growing fast and just keeps growing, which is excellent timing for us. Our aim is not just to reach cyclists but also those who want to take up cycling. I think cycling will continue to be a way of life and people are realising this more and more. That's why people are willing to invest in a bicycle to improve their way of life and health," says Hong Kong-born publisher Kris HM Gomeze.