Cycling is much more than “just a fun and healthy hobby”.

Cycling can reduce traffic jams, create more friendly communities and give the elderly, young and poor a reliable means of transport.

It can also cut air and noise pollution, decrease national healthcare costs, calm down frenetic traffic and make cities more liveable.

Finally, cycling has been found to increase happiness – and who can quantify that in ringgit terms?

In other words, when countries invest in promoting cycling, it will generate benefits for the whole country, not just for cyclists.

In that sense, cycling is actually a patriotic way to build the nation – in a slightly different way from traditional thinking, but perhaps something we need to seriously examine.

Improve national health

Other countries have already studied the actual costs and benefits of cycling – complete with hard statistics.

In Britain, it was found that cycling at a leisurely pace for 50km a week (for about 30 minutes over 10km per weekday to and from work) cuts cancer and heart disease by 45% and 46% respectively.

This was the result of a five-year study of 263,450 commuters by Glasgow University, published in the British Medical Journal.

The “Benefits Of Investing In Cycling”, an executive summary by Dr Rachel Aldred from the University of Westminster, stated that if people in urban England and Wales cycled and walked as much as people do in Copenhagen, the NHS (Britain’s National Health Service) could save around £17bil (RM109bil) within 20 years.

Less jams and pollution

A World Bank study has shown that traffic congestion causes RM20bil of economic losses in the Klang Valley – that’s RM54mil a day!

The majority of this cost is lost productivity, followed by wasted fuel and environmental damage caused by exhaust fumes.

Unlike cars, bikes don’t emit poisonous fumes or engine clatter. Cars gobble up much more road/parking space and financial resources than bicycles – for example, 10 bicycles can fit into one car park space.

And of course, it’s far cheaper to build bike lanes than highways. Even Germany is now building a network of “bicycle highways”.

Singapore is now pushing for cycling in a big way, building a network of bike paths all over the island – it will spend S$1.5bil (RM4.5bil) on its Walking and Cycling Plan.

Besides bike lanes, cycling in the hot, sweaty tropics needs other supporting infrastructure, and developers in Singapore have been required (since July 2016) to build facilities for cyclists – such as showers, lockers and bicycle parking.

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It’s easy to take your folded bike onto the LRT. Photo: The Star/Andrew Sia

LRT/MRT stations

Why struggle to find car parking at an LRT station or wait forever for a feeder bus when you can just buy a cheap RM150 bicycle, and then ride for a mere five minutes (over say 2km) to the nearest LRT station?

At Sunsuria City, a new development just south of Putrajaya, a bicycle lane is planned to link the housing areas and Xiamen University to the nearby Salak Tinggi station on the KLIA–KL Sentral ERL (Express Rail Link).

More friendly cities

“Cycling enables people to interact socially and feel more at home in their local community,” says a report by the department of transport, Queensland, Australia.

Aldred, from the University of Westminster, notes that people living on a street without through motor traffic knew and supported their neighbours to a much greater extent than people on other streets with “rat-running traffic”.

But we don’t really need foreign experts to tell us this – we can sense this for ourselves. In our small towns – such as Kampar, Perak – where cars have not yet overwhelmed bicycles, we can see how even children and old people cycle to the morning market.

Boosting business

In traditional towns where parking is tight, it has been shown that cycling is also good for business.

For instance, on New York high streets, business rose by about 25% when cycle lanes were introduced, according to a report in The Guardian (tinyurl.com/star2-business).

Aldred adds, “Cycling can help create the kinds of places people want to shop, as in Amsterdam’s Utrechtsestraat, where thriving independent businesses happily coexist with streams of parents carrying children on cargo bicycles.”

Indeed, a national US study found that for each US$1mil (RM4.27mil) invested in cycling infrastructure, it created 11.4 local jobs compared to 7.8 jobs for road-only projects.

Everybody has transport

Many people in urban Malaysia have become “taxi drivers” for their kids and elderly relatives.

But in Holland and Denmark, up to 41% of people commute regularly by bike because it’s easy to do and it feels safe – decades of investment in cycling infrastructure have made it that way (tinyurl.com/star2-holland).

In Amsterdam, one can see everyone – children, women, executives in suits and even the elderly – cycling around. Indeed, in Holland, 20% of 80-84-year-olds regularly cycle.

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Saiful Zulkifli can breeze past any traffic jams when cycling to work thanks to this bike lane along the Guthrie Highway. Photo: Filepic

Cycling helps the poor too.

“Many poor people struggle to get around without a car, with public transport expensive or limited, or struggle to pay for their car,” Aldred notes. “Investing in cycling enables them to access jobs and services and reduce their need to own and use cars.”

Happiness

It’s stressful when fighting traffic jams every day.

In transport economics, such time spent travelling is defined as “lost time”, says Aldred. But, academics now argue that people can enjoy and value transport time.

Indeed, in the article “Rooting for a green route”, those Malaysians who regularly cycle to work find it to be a happy and healthy time, something like an adventure every day.

Conclusion

Cycling is a more healthy, friendly and human mode of transport.

It reduces traffic jams, cuts pollution and makes cities more liveable.

It can boost business in downtown areas.

Building cycling infrastructure costs a fraction of investment in cars and roads.

And it’s a happier way to get round congested cities.

“If a magic pill were invented that could generate all of these benefits, we would be falling over ourselves to buy it,” says the article in The Guardian.

“As it is, no magic is required, just steady, long-term planning and investment, and a commitment to the humble bicycle, so that more of us can enjoy the simple, life-giving joy of cycling from A to B.”

Indeed, cycling should be seen as a patriotic method of nation building.


Nation building and national unity are the prime goals of the Ride for Malaysia organised by the Star Media Group and Sunsuria Berhad. The event will be held on July 30. For more information and registration see: sites.thestar.com.my/rideformalaysia.