BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Carbon dioxide levels are set to drop this weekend in Bangkok, as its residents switch from motor to pedal power.
Every Sept 22, people the world over are encouraged to get around without cars and instead ride a bike, bus, train or walk.
Sunday, the day before, is no exception, and Car Free Day 2014 is being celebrated in Thailand's capital as in other cities, as the local authorities try to convince their citizens to reduce air pollution and lead a healthier life, if only for a day.
In China, Car Free Day activities will focus on the impact of transport on the quality of urban life and encourage reallocation and design of streets and public spaces, promoting a variety of ways to balance the traffic on the road space allocation.
In Thailand, Car Free Day is taking place in all 77 provinces, and in Bangkok, traffic police are sealing off parts or all of some major roads today and tomorrow. Those taking part in the Thai Cycling Fair 2014 are extending car-free coverage and riding bikes for the entire week.
Mr Mongkol Vijarana, vice-president of Thailand Cycling Club, is optimistic that traffic all over the country will be a lot lighter.
"Participation has really improved over the years and that's particularly noticeable in the rise in the number of bikes on the road. In Bangkok, we had just 250 cyclists taking part in the events back in 2000, when the initiative was launched. Now we have more than 30,000," he said.
"But we are still a long way off the standards set by Bogota in Colombia where three successive mayors have been implementing a network of bike lands all around the city. Much of the credit must go to Mayor Enrique Penalosa."
Mr Penalosa's five biggest changes were the relocation of informal vendors who occupied the public zones and streets, the improvement of all the city parks and the construction of several new ones, the entire renovation of some of the most important avenues of the city, the removal of cars from sidewalks by raising them and installing bollards, and starting construction on the TransMilenio (Mass Transit System).
"Traffic jams were reduced by 40 per cent, the people's quality of life was better and the city became more liveable. Even the number of drug-dependent criminals was reduced.
"I think that Bogota is similar to Bangkok in terms of drugs, criminals and traffic jams. Even the population is on par, with Bogota having eight million people and Bangkok 10 million. So why can't we change and become a liveable city like Bogota? The governor has the budget, personnel and power to change the city," said Mr Mongkol.
He is not just asking the question but also putting his ideas into writing.
"This year, I put a proposal to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA). Firstly, I would like the BMA to adjust the pavement so that it's suitable for disabled people. If those disabled people can move smoothly and conveniently on the pavement, then we can also walk safely. If it's properly designed, cyclists can share it. Today, many more working people ride bikes to the office.
"Secondly, I would like the BMA to take 15cm from each of the three lanes of traffic, and leave we cyclists 45cm more room. The traffic won't miss it and cyclists will feel safer. It isn't necessary to paint white lines on the pavement as we don't have any bike law to support cyclists," he adds.
Car Free Day also aims to encourage people to reduce their carbon footprint by switching to mass transport alternatives like the BTS, metro and boat.
"We are grateful to CentralWorld for supporting this car-free event," said Deputy Bangkok Governor Amorn Kitchawengkul, during the recent press conference.
"Bangkok is one of the world's most traffic-congested cities and we really do want to solve the problem permanently. We have already implemented several projects, among them expanding the BTS to Bang Wa. We are also studying the potential for a mono rail service and we are connecting transportation systems like car to boat at Khlong Phasi Charoen and through a skywalk. We want people to have more choices of transport so they can choose the best, the safest and the most convenient."
"Cycling saves energy, reduces air pollution and makes people healthy physically and mentally, thus reducing medical expenses," said Mr Narong Tienmek of the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, adding the health costs for non-communicable diseases now exceed 200 billion baht (S$7.87 billion) every year.
"Copenhagen has been voted the world's most liveable city for the second year in a row. More than 60 per cent of its resident ride their bikes as part of their daily activities and enjoy a better quality of life. We want Thailand to be like that."
"The population of the world has just exceeded seven billion and is likely to reach nine or perhaps 10 billion in the next 30 years. If we don't stop harming the environment by wasting so much energy and other natural resources, this planet won't be able to cope. Car Free Day is made even more important by the fact that our private cars, from production process, energy consumption and through the fumes they release are one of the major culprits in destroying the world," said Dr Parinya Thewanarumitkul, deputy dean of Thammasat University and honorary adviser to Thailand Cycling Club.
"Experience is showing that many unliveable cities around the world have become more liveable after using more bicycles. We are making progress but its slow. In 1998, we had our first bike lane on Praditmanutham Road. Now there are more than 30 bike lanes and that figure is expected to increase in the future."
Dr Parinya is exhibiting his photos in "Wheel the World" this weekend at CentralWorld mall. Other activities include a bicycle fun park, art street, product stalls and booths run by students from Chulalongkorn, Thammasat, Kasetsart, Silpakorn, Mahidol, King Mongkut's University of Technology Thon Buri and King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Ladkrabang.
"We would like all universities around Bangkok to encourage cycling and the renovation of bike lanes around the universities," Dr Parinya said.
"We will also be showcasing the first ever human-powered bus ridden by 20 people."
On your bikes
- The traffic police are sealing off major roads in Bangkok as part of Car Free Day. Silom will be partially closed between Sala Daeng and the Narathiwat-Ratchanakharin intersection from noon to 10pm on Saturday and totally closed from midnight on Sunday to 6am on Monday.
- About 20,000 cyclists are expected to converge on Sanam Luang on Sunday at 8am. There are various meeting points around Bangkok for the ride to Sanam Luang. From there, cyclists will rally from CentralWorld and Silom. The procession leaves at 8.30am.