Perhaps when the bicycle was invented almost two centuries ago its creator was unaware of the potential impact the two-wheeler would have on the planet.
But these days, millions of people in cities around the world believe the bicycle is a great answer to environmental problems. Often cited success stories include Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Bogota (Colombia), Curitiba (Brazil) and Montreal (Canada).
But is Thailand's capital following suit? Maybe. Maybe not. It should be noted that making Bangkok bike-friendly is a policy peddled by one of the candidates in the upcoming election for Bangkok's next governor.
But to reach that goal, residents of the City of Angels definitely need to do more than rely on a politician's promise.
Starting with smaller areas is a good first step. Over the past few years, a few universities, namely Mahidol, Kasetsart and Thammasat, have been working on promoting the use of bicycles on their campuses through schemes such as cheap bicycle rental and providing facilities ranging from bike lanes and parking spaces to service shops.
I recently revisited the Rangsit campus of Thammasat University and checked out their bike-sharing project and brand new bike lanes. It reminded me of some 20 years ago when the campus was first opened and I went there to meet some Thammasat friends who stayed at the campus dormitory.
Bicycles were their main mode of transport within the vast university grounds. Back then, despite the fact that there was no specific lane on the road for bicycles, cycling around was easy since there were not many cars.
So much has changed since then, of course. These days a lot of the students and lecturers use motor vehicles. The campus roads are no longer that safe for bike commuters, not to mention the spoiled air quality.
A couple of months ago, as part of its "Green University" campaign, the campus launched a bike-sharing scheme which provides bicycles for students and university personnel to use within the campus for a low fee. During the introductory period the rates were 1 baht a day for a single-speed bike, and 5 baht for one with gears. But since this week, new charges have been introduced and the rental bikes now cost 5 baht and 20 baht, respectively.
The programme's 598 bicycles painted in red and white are known among students as "rod Coke" (Coke bikes) because they were donated by Coca-Cola. And thanks to the newly expanded network of bike lanes which make almost every area of the campus accessible by human-powered two-wheelers, the bike-sharing scheme has become a quite a success.
"In the first month alone, about 5,000 students came to register as members of the scheme and more are joining," said Dr Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, Thammasat's vice-rector for Student Affairs.
All the bikes, except broken ones, are taken every week day, even after the price hike.
"These bikes will allow the students to experience at first-hand how cycling not only makes their lives easier but also improves the environment they live in. Eventually, we hope they will be convinced to get bikes of their own," he explained.
Kasidis Kruthangka, a political science sophomore and head of the university's cycling club, said that the expanded bike lane network was a crucial factor to the rise of bicycle use among his peers. "Our bike lanes are safe because they are completely separated from the roads," he said. Besides, some of the lanes are also roofed, while many of the open ones are shaded by trees.
Kasidis added that at the campus, bikes are gaining in popularity not only among male students but their female counterparts as well.
"Unlike many other universities the girls here do not need to wear uniforms. They can wear trousers to class which makes it convenient to bike," he said. "But even if they wear the university uniform, biking is no problem because we don't use pencil skirts but pleated ones which allow the legs to move more freely."
Let's hope that one day the trend will spread to other universities as well as schools, factories, industrial estates, housing estates and - one day - an entire town or city. Then again, let's not just hope. Let's bike.
Well, see you here again next Thursday. Until then, if you have questions, news or biking insights you wish to share, please feel free to send an email to email@example.com or go to "Freewheel Bangkok" community page on Facebook.
Pongpet Mekloy is the Bangkok Post's travel editor and a mountain bike freak.
About the author
- Writer: Pongpet Mekloy
Position: Travel Editor