KUALA LUMPUR: In the ongoing debate about bicycle lanes in Malaysia, our hot and humid climate has often been cited as a major reason for the failure of our cycling iniatives.
On Saturday, NST Online conducted a poll on social media, asking Malaysians whether they were interested in using a new bicycle lane linking the suburbs of Wangsa Maju to the KLCC area which City Hall said would be completed in a year.
A total of 2,400 of our readers answered the poll, and when voting closed, it was revealed that 50.2 per cent said they would not use the bicycle lane, while 49.8 per cent said they were interested.
As the issue unfolded, there were many comments on the articles suggesting why cycling is still not a common practice in Malaysia. Safety and poor infrastructure as well as dangerous drivers and narrow Kuala Lumpur roads were cited as some reasons why Malaysians don't cycle to work, and why cycling lanes were not suited for Malaysia. Yet, there were other naysayers who said that the Malaysian climate was not conducive to cycling, and any effort would be doomed to fail.
Malaysia was also compared to the Netherlands, which has a cooler climate and said to be more conducive to cycling. Is the weather the biggest impediment to cycling?
Not for Peter Van Der Lans, an avid cyclist who has cycled extensively in this region. Lans was of the opinion that mindset, rather than the weather, was a bigger reason Malaysians don't cycle.
"Malaysia is extremely car oriented. More than anywhere else in the world. Take for example, Penang. People say you can't have bicyle lanes, bus lanes or tram lanes because the streets are too small. The streets are not too small. If you look at the Hague, for example, the government simply made the lanes," he said.
Lans said in Malaysia, motorised traffic dominated the roads at the expense of other modes of transport.
"Malaysians think complete and totally in terms of cars. In Penang, they've built a bicycle path along the east coast of the island. It sounds fantastic. In a way, it is a very nice bicycle lane. But what's the problem? At some point, they put poles there. You have to get off your bicycle, lift the bicycle to the other side. Why? Well, the poles are there because of the motorcycles. They will use the lane if you don't put the poles in there. In the end, it is just the same as no bicycle lane. So one way or the other, it doesn't work," he said.
He said that the weather should not stop Malaysians from cycling. Dutch schoolchildren who cycled to school faced more challenges from the weather compared to Malaysians.
"Is cycling viable in this country? Absolutely!," he said.
"In Holland, it's much colder. When I was a kid, I cycled to school, and it didn't matter what sort of weather . If it was 2 degrees or 4 degrees, if it was windy or if there was ice on the road, it didn't matter, you just cycled. Half the kid population in Netherlands still cycle to school. No matter if the weather is wet, hot or cold. It's a mindset thing. People here in Malaysia, they're made of sugar. They can't handle anything. They have no guts. They're not growing up with any form of resistance," he said.
However, Lans added that safety was a problem when it came to cycling in Malaysia.
"Nowadays, everyone brings their kids to school, it doesn't matter how far it is, because it is dangerous. You never know what sort of people are on the road. Cars are a big problem. Why is it dangerous? In my opinion, it is because of the behaviour of people on the road, especially the motorcycles here in Penang. The motorcycles have zero respect for any traffic rule. The reason why kids don't cycle to school is because they can't find a safe way," he said.
Lans added that the heat may be a problem for some, but there were ways around it.
"What I find in Malaysia is that people don’t even want to try. They say .. No no no. This is not for us.," he said, adding that there were other initiatives to improve the state of transportation in Mala
ysia, especially in Penang, where he is based.
"To make Georgetown interesting for tourists, they could close down little India to all traffic. Make it entirely pedestrian, " he said, adding that in the 1970s, the single most important shopping street in Amsterdam was closed to traffic and opened only for pedestrians and it made millions for the traders.
"The government simply has to do it. It's not a very popular thing to do. But everyone is better off. City Hall should just do it," he said.
Lans said changing the mentality should start with children.
"In the 1970s, when I grew up (in the Netherlands), the discussion was about recycling, especially paper and glass. That was how I grew up in the mid 1970s. In this country, We have this with no more straws, but look around, you can still get straws," he said.
"Schools were instructed, this is what we want you to teach the kids. I went home and told my parents we need to collect the paper and the glass separately for recycling. The parents started participating," he said.
"It's the younger generation that needs to make the change, not the older ones, " he said.