At the beginning of the month several posts on social media sites brought attention to the fact that the newly finished bicycle lane (completed in April of 2016) in the Chatuchak area of Bangkok had been taken over by food vendor carts, tuk-tuks and vehicles. Photos of parked cars, tuk-tuk taxis and food stalls occupying the bicycle lane went viral and drew responses from several commenters who shared various opinions about the bike lane.
Some social media comments point to the fact that the road, which is very narrow, where the bicycle lane is located has always served as a parking area for visitors to nearby JJ Market and provides a space for many street food vendors on busy weekends.
“The road is very busy and there have never been many cyclists who used it in the past.”
“Cyclists do not need their own lane here. The bicycle lane eliminates many parking spaces that are needed for the market.”
“The street vendors were here first and then cycling lanes were added when cycling became a fad in the city.”
Other social media comments, mostly from Bangkok cyclists, reveal frustration with the misuse of the bicycle lane by vendor carts and motor vehicles while other comments alluded to the uselessness of the new lane.
“It is not possible for bicycle to use this lane when have too many cars parking lot here.”
“Is it just a waste of money to make a bicycle lane here? I can think of better place to ride my bike.”
“Even if the bicycle lane can be used here, there is still no place for bicycle to park safe at the market.”
In a city full of the hustle and bustle of everyday life perhaps any unused space, regardless of its designation, will inevitably be occupied by something or put to use by someone. A short walk along any road in Bangkok immediately reveals how sidewalks, footbridges, and even business frontage areas are all susceptible to what can be best described as city creep. No void remains too long. An empty bicycle lane is no exception.
Recognizing that there are unique factors that exist in Thailand’s capital that make creating successful cycling-related projects a bit more difficult than in other locales it is still important for project planners, community groups, and cyclists to remain focused on advocating and constructing projects that actually solve an existing problem.
So, the question is – Was there a problem on this road that required a bicycle lane to be created?
To answer that question, and others associated with successful bicycle infrastructure planning, one could draw from some or all of the ideas listed below:
Start small and be willing to accept failure, but learn from mistakes.
- Remain aware that failed bicycle infrastructure projects will provide talking points for those interests that are not served by more bicycle transportation. Starting small makes any financial losses due to a failed project that much easier to ignore when considering future projects. Going big the first time and having it fail makes it less likely that you’ll have a second chance. Who remembers the ill-fated city bike campaign (known as Pun Pun Bike) launched in Bangkok that addresses exactly none of the problems associated with riding a bike in the capital city?
- Quick pilot projects cost less and give agencies the ability to gauge use and come up with ways to improve on a design or layout. If funds are tight, plan something cheap that raises awareness and will draw a larger commitment when it is seen as viable and useful to the community.
Does the bicycle-related project solve a problem?
- DO NOT create a bridge to nowhere. Your bicycle infrastructure project must solve an existing problem. Simply saying that every road needs a bike lane so that cyclists are more safe when riding is not enough. Not every road needs a bicycle lane, just like not every intersection needs a traffic light or a crosswalk. I’ve seen far too many kilometers of unnecessary bicycle lanes alongside roads that are so remote with little to no vehicle traffic.
- Are there other ways to solve the problem? Could bicycles use an alternate route? Just because you want to end up at the same destination as vehicle traffic doesn’t mean you have to use the same route. You are on a bicycle after all and can go many places that a car or motorbike can not.
- Are unprotected lanes any better than just riding in the vehicle traffic lane? Painting lines on roads does not make cyclists more safe. Protected bike lanes (those that are completely separate or barricaded from the vehicle traffic lane) more than halve the risk of injury to cyclists.
Organized Cyclists – Create the infrastructure you need or provide input to planners.
- Never assume the planners know the needs of cyclists. Cycling groups need to become better organized so that they can create the opportunities where their ideas can be heard by planners.
- Create rides that are functional as well as fun. Going out to dinner rides and grocery shopping bike rides have been organized by cycling groups in several cities so that members can support one another while completing everyday errands.
Models of success: Remind yourself and others of the many successful projects.
- Infrastructure costs vary widely by location. Studies show more people are willing to ride if cities provide infrastructure to support them. Unfortunately, the more successful bicycle infrastructure projects exist outside of big cities where they receive less notoriety, fan-fare, and funding. Seeing a big city bike infrastructure project fail miserably gives the general public a sense that it must not be working anywhere.
- More cyclists need to make use of and lend their support/approval (via social media and other sources) of existing bicycle-related projects that actually solve a problem. Future projects will emulate those most spoken of and applauded by the general public. In Thailand, there are already rumors of creating more cycling paths at airports around the country following the model of Bangkok’s very popular Suvarnabhumi International Airport Sky Lane.
A new bike-related project
that I now make use of on a daily basis is the bicycle lane stretching from Hua Hin city south to an area known as Khao Tao (Turtle Mountain), a distance of just over five kilometers. This new bicycle lane has been constructed completely separate from a dangerously busy section of Highway 4 (Phetkasem Road). I had ridden this dangerous stretch of Phetkasem Road over the past 7 years and was personally witness to the rise in use of this stretch of the highway by large buses, trucks, and vehicles. Fatalities (mostly motorcycle) steadily grew over the years as well and because of these deaths a nearby university became instrumental (along with the government body overseeing the construction of the Rajabhakti Park) in having separate lanes built on both sides of the busy highway to facilitate bicycle and student motorbike use.
The construction of this new bicycle lane has directly addressed a specific problem and given a safe transportation solution to students of the University as well as local and visiting cyclists.
The Chatuchak road bicycle lane is a failed project and no amount of enforcement will reverse the actions of those food stall vendors and vehicles that use the road as a parking lot. All considerations that should have been initially recognized prior to painting the lane on Chatuchak road will hopefully serve as a learned lesson for future bicycle-related projects. What are your thoughts? Comment below or send us an email to Info@BicycleThailand.com
Photos – Pong Palong & Richard Barrow
Max Yakov says
I’m a Bangkok cyclist and for safety use the sidewalks when I can and NOT the cycle lanes or road