Weak support for city cyclists so dispiriting
Should I feel thankful that businessman and property analyst Sophon Pornchokchai has expressed concerns over the safety of cyclists?
In his recent statement, Mr Sophon said he didn't want cyclists to share the road with other motorists as it is too dangerous and cyclists may get killed.
He may have a point, especially since several cyclists have died as a result of reckless driving. He even said allocating road surfaces for bike lanes would be a waste.
His comment was in stark contrast with his image as a candidate for Bangkok governor two years ago.
At that time, he joined others in taking to his bicycle for a photo-op stunt which implied his advocacy for this mode of environmentally-friendly transport.
Now he recommends part of pavements be designated for bike lanes for the sake of cyclists' safety. Does he mean cyclists should share this space with countless pedestrians, motorbikes and street vendors?
In a previous statement, Mr Sophon protested against the so-called New Landmark of Thailand, the 7km riverside promenade along both sides of the Chao Phraya River which is being pushed by the military government.
Mr Sophon said the project, with a 14 billion baht budget, will leave people outside the middle-class bracket in the cold if it's designed as a car-free zone and as a leisure zone for pedestrians and cyclists.
Instead, he proposed a four-lane road instead of a promenade. If the government really wanted a bike lane, he said, he could suggest a cheaper option — buying a huge plot of land in a peripheral area and turning it into a cycling track exclusively for cyclists.
I guess Mr Sophon and numerous social media users must be pleased to see how new bike lanes are being developed.
Except for the 8km bike lane in the Rattanakosin neighbourhood which is part of the main road, most are individual tracks, separated from traffic. For example, the Green Lane at Suvarnabhumi airport has gained immense popularity.
Meanwhile, the Siam Commercial Bank has allocated a generous amount — about 400 million baht — to improve the lane, providing a smaller loop for novice bicyclists and making it a leisure stop for families, with shops and eateries.
The Expressway Authority of Thailand has followed suit. It will launch a cycling track under the expressway between Ngam Wong Wan and Chaeng Watthana this week.
Provincial governors around the country are also proposing to build one cycling track each in their own province, as instructed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha during his Friday talk programme late last year.
The prime minister pledged a huge budget for bike lane extensions as he made it clear he wanted government officials to take cycling more seriously.
As an avid cyclist, I should be satisfied. But really I am not.
I think there is a false perception regarding bike lanes — they can be a practical facility on the far left lane of roads, or cycling tracks for exercise which are mostly in parks or enclosed areas.
In fact, I think we should be promoting cycling as a mode of transport that is good for the environment rather than just another sport. (The Rattanakosin bike lane, with one-way traffic, is not a practical facility for everyday use.)
The airport Green Lane does not mean anything to me. I live in the city unlike pilots or flight attendants who travel to Suvarnabhumi every few days.
What's the point in packing my bike in the boot of my car and driving all the way to Suvarnabhumi to use the bike lane?
Nor am I attracted to the Ngam Wong Wan cycling track.
Cycling is a practical mode of transport for me given that my office — which is located in Khlong Toey — is just seven kilometres away from my home.
One last issue to address Mr Sophon.
If he could just apply his expertise in appraising land values to think about the cost of the valuable time that is lost in traffic jams, especially when more roads are built in the city and more cars get stuck in gridlock.
Instead of building more roads, how about allocating far-left road lanes for cyclists and allowing drivers to decide if they want to give up their cars for two-wheelers, rather than getting stuck for hours in traffic? The more motorists who abandon their cars, the less traffic. It's as simple as that.
I have decided to commute by bicycle, from time to time.
My bicycle is supposed to take me from point A to point B, not circle in a loop. Therefore, stop telling me I should cycle in the park.
Sirinya Wattanasukchai is an assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.
Sirinya Wattanasukchai is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.