‘Make Penang the cycling capital’

Dr Lim Mah Hui writes of his vision of seeing more bicycles and fewer cars on the streets of Penang.

Recently, I had to run errands around Little India in George Town, infamous for its congested traffic and lack of parking bays. But with LinkBike, this traffic problem became non-existent for me.

I parked my car near Town Hall where there is a LinkBike station, hopped onto one and pedalled to Chulia Street. In five minutes, I was there. No hassle of looking for parking. Hey presto! Did my errand and rode back to Town Hall.

To use one of these bikes, we need to register by logging into the LinkBike app. For a one-day pass, there is a charge of RM2. You ride for free in the first half hour and thereafter the charge is RM1 for each hour if you keep the bicycle with you.

You can return the bicycle to any of the nine stations set up. LinkBike announced plans for 25 stations with 250 bicycles to be ready in the next few months.

George Town and its vicinity is an ideal place for using bicycles as an efficient form of transport because it is a relatively small area with flat terrain. Most places are within a half-hour cycling distance.

In October 2013, I made a speech in a full council meeting about adopting cycling as an alternative and complementary form of public transportation.

Then, it was not viewed as practical and realistic. Malaysians complain the weather is too hot, the roads are not safe, and people are addicted to cars. There is some truth to these.

But imagine how traffic congestion would be reduced if people cycle around during lunchtime instead of hopping into a car for a 1-2km ride and end up spending more time looking for parking space.

Within the last few years, things have changed quickly. More and more cities are seriously promoting cycling as an alternative and sustainable form of transportation.

In 2014, 600 cities were listed as having bike-sharing systems. I am happy that Penang is now on this list.

In my 2013 speech, I proposed that the following steps be taken:

– Provide dedicated bicycle lanes and reflective road studs to improve safety for these users.

– Plant more trees to provide shade.

– Provide proper parking space for bicycles.

– Work with private entrepreneurs to start bike-sharing schemes.

– Draw up a bicycle strategy, policy and plan, integrated with town planning. It should be coherent, not piecemeal and ad-hoc. It must be bottom-up; bicycle commuters must be intimately involved in the planning. The plan must include a budget.

Some of these have been undertaken. But much more needs to be done.

Let Penang lead the way and become the cycling capital of Malaysia.

Dr Lim Mah Hui is a former councillor with the Penang Island City Council.

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