On your bike, deputy governor

On your bike, deputy governor

So, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) is to give up its plan to make the City of Angels a bit more liveable.

n an interview with the press last week, deputy governor Amnuay Nimmano said he wanted to scrap some "underused/unused" bike lanes in the city. Also set to face the same fate is the Bangkok Rapid Transit (BRT) -- the mass transport system that links Silom with Tha Phra on the Thon Buri side of the city.

He said some bike lanes have to be removed because they "obstruct traffic flow" and for that, in his opinion, it's the cause of traffic problems in this city.

His statement is a disappointment as it reinforces the belief that the city administration gives priority to four-wheelers. But between cars and bicycles, it's the former that creates traffic problems. Not the other way around, Mr Deputy Governor.

Ploenpote Atthakor is editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

Actually, we do not have to have a scientist's brain to realise that the city is more pleasant during long holiday periods, like New Year or Songkran, when the roads become near-empty as so many four-wheelers get out of town. Ironically, they cause traffic jams in other areas they visit.

If the deputy governor really wants to solve the traffic problem, he must reduce the car population by providing alternatives -- mass-transit systems and cycling.

Instead of scrapping the bike lanes, deputy governor Amnuay should take a closer look, find the reasons why they are underused (for his information, mostly it's because the lanes are not safe enough, perhaps as a result of bad design). After finding out about the problems, he can fix them accordingly. That will surely attract more people to get on their bikes.

But as we all know, one of the problems about bike lanes is that they are always violated by other road users.

The deputy governor acknowledged that several bike lanes are often occupied by tuk-tuks and pushcarts. He did not mention cars, but in reality, the green-colour lanes have become convenient parking strips for all kinds of motorists, including drivers of city garbage trucks, and police cars. They feel free to break the law, while the authorities just turn a blind eye, instead of enforcing it.

And it's a disappointment because while the deputy governor, a former senior police officer, talked about people breaking the law, he did not stop and think of his role as a law enforcer. He is supposed to get tough with those violators, not the cyclists.

And if he forgot that bad design is a problem, then it's time he remembered.

Look at the bike lanes on Buddha Monthon Sai I Road, which was constructed in the time of former city governor Apirak Kosayodhin. Mr Apirak pledged that every new road under his administration would be fitted with bicycle lanes. Sound perfect? Not really. In practice, city officials did not allocate extra space for biking. They just turned road shoulders into bike lanes and they become a de facto parking strip for cars. Again, officials and police don't care.

It's also time for the city to make a decision about roadside car parking on those roads with bike lanes. Can they coexist and if so, in what way? Without clear lines, motorists will still occupy the strips, making many "underused" -- exactly as the deputy governor put it.

Yet, in general, we have to admit that there's some improvement with fewer accidents involving bicycles. But credit does not go the BMA which simply does nothing.

The BMA failed to intervene when the BTS skytrain put restrictions on bikes which do not fold up at certain times (it's a complete ban on the underground rail system). Such a rule makes it a lot more difficult for cyclists with non-folding bikes to use the system in everyday life.

Perhaps, Pol Lt Gen Amnuay may think that without MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra, who set cycling as his flagship policy during the 2013 election, he is not committed to promoting this environmentally friendly mode of transportation. But he is wrong. Cycling is one of the national agendas, set by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

With regard to the BRT, it's true the system, as a stand-alone system without a network, is not perfect. But we cannot blame it on the operator. After all, it is an alternative for low-income people in the Thon Buri area to get into the Silom business district, compared with the costly BTS skytrain. The problem with the BRT is that authorities have failed to ban private cars from the designated lanes which would make it a real mass-transit system.

The deputy governor needs to fix his mentality, not prioritise private cars. The key to a traffic-free city is reducing the car population. Otherwise, he will achieve nothing.

Ploenpote Atthakor

Former editorial page Editor

Ploenpote Atthakor is former editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

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