Mapping Kuala Lumpur for two-wheelers

Mr Jeffery Lim on his hand-made electric bicycle which he's now testing. The batteries are inside the satchels slung over the rack. -- PHOTO: CAROLYN HONG
Mr Jeffery Lim on his hand-made electric bicycle which he's now testing. The batteries are inside the satchels slung over the rack. -- PHOTO: CAROLYN HONG

One morning as Mr Jeffrey Lim was walking around Little India where his office was located in Singapore, he spotted a man on an old-fashioned classic bicycle.

For this graphic designer, it was a wow moment. The bicycle, he thought, was a work of beauty. He hunted down a similar bicycle for S$120, and with that, he started exploring the nooks of Singapore on two wheels.

He even tried commuting from his Bukit Batok home to work but the traffic was daunting as it was along a major bus route. Instead, he left the bicycle in the office to use for commuting in the city centre after he got there by the MRT.

Mr Lim soon met other Singapore cyclists who showed him how to build bicycles from parts. That was five years ago. When the Malaysian returned to Kuala Lumpur in 2009 to open his own design studio, he brought this passion along.

Today, Mr Lim, 35, is one of KL's most ardent advocates for cycling as he believes that the city can be made a cycle-friendly place despite its crazy traffic gridlocks. He has worked out many routes suitable for cyclists.

Last year, he began to put these routes down in a map dedicated to cycling, with the help of 300 volunteers. It's the first such map for KL, and he hopes it's also the start of cyclists being taken seriously as road users.

"The map can be the basis for future bicycle lanes in KL," Mr Lim said. It can also show areas where the authorities could build basic amenities such as installing tubes on the stairs of pedestrian bridges to make it easier for bicycles to be wheeled up.

It took him a year to produce a detailed map of KL after realising that most available maps were either inaccurate, not detailed enough or out of date.

The map was given to volunteers to mark the routes that they know. For cyclists, it's not the most direct route that matters but the safest ones. The map shows routes where cars generally travel at under 60km/h, and routes through parks including one through University Malaya which lets cyclists avoid a major highway. Crossings are particularly important as they enable cyclists to get across major roads.

"It was amazing how many people helped," he said.

The map, although still in progress, is now available online. He also gives it away for free to requests via the Cycling Kuala Lumpur Facebook page.

Honing the bicycle-building skills that he learnt in Singapore, Mr Lim has also built an electric bike with batteries stowed in a satchel slung over to rack. It looks like a regular bicycle until you see him zooming with ease up the hills. It's undergoing testing.

Mr Lim said he knows of more than a hundred people who commute in the city mostly by cycling. For him too, the car has become the option of last choice to be used only to ferry heavy things or when there isn't a feasible cycle route.

He believes if KL is to become cyclable, the initiative has to begin with cyclists. Once they get it going, like having a map in hand, they can lobby the authorities to improve amenities.

City cycling was a big fad about two years ago, with 500 to 700 people cycling on KL's busiest streets every last Friday of the month to claim equal right to the roads. Their numbers have dwindled but the authorities in some states like Penang and Selangor had taken notice.

George Town in Penang now has bicycle lanes, and a similar plan is in the making for Petaling Jaya in Selangor. In fact, cycling is so popular in George Town that dozens of bicycle rental shops have sprung up in recent years, bringing life back into the old city.

Mr Lim hopes that Kuala Lumpur can be next.

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