Bike-way to the danger zone
One of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)’s most recent missions is to reorganise the public transportation system in Thailand, which for now includes cabs, vans and motorcycle taxis.
For this, the NCPO deserves non-stop rounds of applause from commuters, as the country’s public transport system is a real mess. There are all types of mafia — those that control vans, taxis, even motorbike taxis. All of these need to be cracked down on.
But what also needs to be addressed and restructured is bicycles, especially in terms of facilities. Despite being an alternative mode of travelling, the popularity of bikes has skyrocketed in recent years. And though bicycles are not technically public transport, when they are on public roads and affect — and are themselves affected by — how people commute, it’s fair enough to label them a public issue.
Cyclists or not, Bangkok citizens must admit Thailand isn’t a country fit for serious cycling. The main roads here are not bicycle-friendly, and as we see more bikes out there, it’s time for the development of some much-needed rules, etiquette and facilities for the benefit and safety of cyclists.
Let’s begin with some simple questions. Where are the safe places to bike, recreationally, in Bangkok?
Lumpini Park, Vachirabenjatas Park (Suan Rot Fai), Benjakitti Park, the single-track Club 11 Bike Club, which is located within the 11th Infantry Regiment in Bang Khen, and the cycle track along the perimeter of Suvarnabhumi Airport are all fine choices.
But what if you find it inconvenient to squeeze your bike inside your fuel-consuming car and drive to these places? Then you must cycle on the sois in your neighbourhood, mingling with faster and larger vehicles — cars, vans, buses, pickup trucks.
What about urbanites biking to work? Are there bike lanes on the way to your office? No? Then what? Again, you have to compete with other larger, faster forms of transportation, putting yourself at risk of being hit — and also hitting others. (Do not ask me where I see this kind of cyclist-versus-driver experience. It’s ubiquitous, even in my small soi on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road.)
And then what about bike racing? Should cyclists be allowed to race on main roads, highways or places that are not designed for the sport?
Take, for example, a bike rally that took place in Tha Maka district of Kanchanaburi province last Saturday. As part of a mini-triathlon, a group of athletes was cycling along the highway while two pickup trucks raced each other. A 10-wheel truck suddenly appeared in the other lane, causing one of the drivers of the pickup trucks to swerve, lose control and hit the cyclists. This careless action resulted in one death and three severe injuries. The reckless driver fled the scene.
This is only one example of many accidents involving cyclists that has occurred. Of course, an accident is an accident. It was unplanned, and no one should be blamed. But accidents can be avoided, and both sides could have taken preventative measures.
Cycling in Thailand is promoted as an environmentally friendly and healthy mode of transport.
But is it really good — and, more importantly, safe — for the riders themselves? This is, of course, not to say that cycling should be discouraged or banned altogether. But if we are going to bike to save the Earth or preserve our health, we have to do it right.
Besides more appropriate facilities for cyclists (such as proper bike lanes, cycling tracks in parks, and tracks and more safety regulations for racing events), safety begins with those on top of the transport chain — automobile drivers.
If drivers follow the laws and etiquette — not zig-zagging along roads or abruptly cutting off other vehicles, for instance — bicycles can share the roads more safely.
And if all parties involved travel in
a polite manner, bike lanes are probably not urgently needed, as everyone would know their place on the street.
Before we get to that point (which essentially means until action is taken and changes are made), Thailand — and Bangkok in particular — will not be a safe place for cycling.
Arusa Pisuthipan is Muse Editor, Bangkok Post.
Deputy editor of the Life section
Arusa Pisuthipan is the deputy editor of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.