On your bike!

A unique book colour-codes routes through Bangkok neighbourhoods to make peddling fun _ and safe

Leaving aside the issue of the lack of bike lanes, Bangkok cyclists have a new option for enjoying the city safely. The country's first Bangkok Bike Map book hit the shelves last week.

Tailor-made for cyclists, the maps feature hidden routes _ most of which are only known to locals _ inside small communities throughout the capital and greater Bangkok, as well as useful stops such as bike shops and public toilets.

"The map took me into some of the alleys [of which] I had always been curious [about] when passing them in my car," said Saisiri Xoomsai.

During the three-hour trip around the backstreets from Phra Khanong to Chinatown, Saisiri and her husband found themselves riding along Khlong Saen Saep and into the "insider's route" where only pedestrians and bicycles are allowed.

"The Map should be a bible for all cyclists seeking new routes into other neighbourhoods," said Saranarat Kanjanavanit, secretary-general of the Green World Foundation at the book's launch.

Bangkok Bike Map, which took the foundation two years to compile, marks another step in eventually making the capital a bicycle-friendly city.

The gear needed for a backstreetroute survey by Rasada Photipantong.

Sharing the main roads with motorised vehicles is always tough for cyclists. According to the Department of Land, there are currently about 7.3 million registered cars in Bangkok, but the city road-surface capacity can only accommodate 1.6 million.

Despite the limited road space, the number of cars continue to outpace the expansion of infrastructure. After the introduction of the government's first-car rebate, the number of newly registered cars hiked to 1.1 million this year, a significant jump from the previous annual average of 240,000.

"Cycling is an option to improve the traffic," said Sira Leepipatnavit, the Green World Foundation's bicycle campaigner and co-editor of Bangkok Bike Map.

Divided into 63 zones, the maps were surveyed by volunteer cyclists who each rode the backstreets of their neighbourhoods. It features links between neighbourhoods off the main roads, allowing cyclists to explore communities beyond their own.

On each map, routes are highlighted in different colours. Red is for main roads that bicycles share with all types of vehicles, yellow is for smaller roads where motorcycles also share the space, while green indicates footpaths or alleys accessible only by bicycles and pedestrians. Green routes are the best and safest for cyclists.

The Bangkok Bike Map's most interesting feature is the marking of shortcuts, with their opening hours, through public access areas such as temples, hospitals, shopping centres and parks.

Useful tips that can never be found on Google Maps, including obstacles such as small wooden bridges and advertisement boards on footpaths as well as bike shops, public toilets and petrol stations, are also indicated.

Rasada Photipantong, a volunteer cyclist, prefers backstreets when cycling, because he has twice been hit by a car. During his two-week survey of the Saphan Mai and Bang Khen areas, he not only found green areas off the main streets, but also quite a few "insider routes" had been blocked by housing estates.

"You can't really trust Google. Not all the small details have been updated yet."

Saisiri found these tips useful, but says some of the green routes featured were disappointing. Footpaths indicated as green lines are often obstructed by vending carts or telephone booths, making them impractical to ride.

"We can't pave bike lanes for cyclists just yet, but we can recommend safer routes," said Sira.

While it's not possible to wait for a perfect bike lane route, said Saranarat, a safe network will attract more cyclists.

"The best way is to start cycling today and the public infrastructure will follow."

The first edition is available (in Thai) at the Green World Foundation and leading bookstores. The next edition will be published in both Thai and English.

About the author

Writer: Sirinya Wattanasukchai
Position: Reporter