In recent years, bicycling has become a popular mode of exercise for many health-conscious people in Thailand. More and more people, young and old from all walks of life, ride in Bangkok and the provinces.
Special bicycle tracks and lanes have been built at different locations, such as the 23km-long green-tarmac track that circumnavigates Suvarnabhumi Airport.
It has become a common sight for motorists to see groups of cyclists – both amateurs and professionals – ride along Bangkok roads in small groups, mostly at night when the traffic is lighter and the weather is more pleasant.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha appears to be well aware of this increasingly popular trend. He expressed support for the construction of bicycle lanes around the country, during his recent weekly TV programme “Returning Happiness to People in the Country”. Prayut said that it was his government’s policy to encourage people to use bicycles.
“We want to promote greater use of bicycles and we want to make sure that cyclists get more convenience and safety,” he said.
The prime minister said he had instructed the Transport Ministry to work with other government agencies in building bike lanes and expanding their coverage around the country. He said cycling could help Thailand save on energy use and lower pollution.
In fact, the campaign for more bicycle use and more bike lanes has continued for a long time. A lack of safe bicycle routes is the key obstacle preventing more people from commuting on bikes.
Bangkok Governor MR Sukhum-bhand Paribatra, during his election campaign, promised to build more bike lanes and other amenities for bikers. However, much of what he promised has yet to materialise.
But given the prime minister’s instruction, the relevant agencies are expected to expedite their work in relation to bicycle routes.
Prayut also said that he would like to see small shops selling local products set up along bike routes in communities so that cyclists could stop and shop and talk to one another.
The plan for more bike lanes is good news for cyclists all over the country. Cycling groups have welcomed Prayut’s announcement, saying that such a plan is long overdue.
We just hope that more safe bike lanes will be built and they will not be encroached on by motorcyclists and street vendors. That is, sadly, the case for the 12km-long bike lanes along both sides of the wide Pradit Manutham Rd, located along the Art Narong-Ram-Indra expressway.
The bike route was popular among cyclists when it opened more than 10 years ago. But now it is used by many motorcyclists, and street vendors have set up shops on a part of the route.
Some cyclists using the route have also complained about its uneven surface – the result of home driveways being constructed along the route.
In order to “return happiness” to cyclists, the prime minister should make sure that not only new bike lanes are built but measures are introduced to protect the routes from misuse. Without such measures, the old problem will happen again, and the result will be a waste of state funds.