BANGKOK, Thailand — On Monday, a bomb exploded near the Erawan Shrine, one of this city's most popular tourist venues, killing over a dozen people. The horrific attack has cast a pall over Bangkok, which just one day earlier had reason to celebrate. On Sunday August 16, thousands of cyclists took to the streets of Thailand for the inaugural “Bike For Mom” event, an initiative launched by the prince of Thailand to honor his mother, the queen. It takes place around Mother’s Day in Thailand, and is also next to the queen’s birthday, hence the theme.
With 146,266 qualifying cyclists and 294,800 biking some part of the route, the ride shattered the previous record for a mass cycling even, which was set in Taiwan in 2012 with 72,919 qualifying cyclists. Many hope the success will kick-start cycling throughout the Thailand, which has otherwise lagged as a mode of transport. Without adequate infrastructure and policies to promote cycling, not to mention on the world’s second most dangerous roads, bikes could use a boost of any kind.
Thailand has 775 kilometers of bike lanes, and with 110 km under construction and a further 2,132 km planned, the country is working towards more than 3,000 km, equal in length to the cycle path along the Danube river. For comparison, Copenhagen has 454 km of bike paths. Also, Thailand recently announced that it is paving the way for Asia’s longest bike path.
Thailand’s second largest city, Chiang Mai, just launched the country’s fourth bike sharing system, and I was there to try it out. It worked pretty seamlessly, and the old part of Chiang Mai, cut off into a perfectly square old town by moats, is rather conducive to biking.
In Slovenia, Ljubljana’s bike sharing system (BicikeLJ) has been getting attention by quickly beating the ridership of Paris’ now-famous Velib bike sharing system, with each bike being used seven times per day, compared to Paris’ not-too-shabby five uses.
Despite Ljubljana having a one-in-two car ownership, the capital aims to have one-third of trips being made by walking or cycling by 2020. How it will fare only time will tell, but beating Paris at its own game is a nice feat in itself, and perhaps Thailand can learn from them, and others can learn from the outcomes of Thailand’s record-breaking effort.
Bike sharing is on the rise globally, and somewhat akin to the rise of bus rapid transit, the success of biking (or busing) in cities does not just depend on the installation of segregated lanes. Those pathways have to be designed to fit into the greater land- and transport-system around them. Only then can bikes (or buses) compete with other modes of transport on a level playing field, adding another affordable mobility option with substantial health benefits and zero pollution. If Thailand’s Bike for Mom event gets people thinking about cycling as a viable alternative to driving, it might help alleviate the traffic in Bangkok and elsewhere around the country.