Behind this map is a story. The story of a labour of love that has taken a group of cyclists nearly six years to tell and retell, and retell with updates to their map. A community made map that would influence a 7km stretch of road (give or take; one way) and a map that would one day (hopefully) shape a city. The story of the map begins with one man, his bicycle, and the need for directions.
Meet Jeff Lim, riding one of the six bicycles he owns to the shoot
This is Jeff Lim. He is a multidisciplinary designer and has a studio workshop named Studio 25. The studio has four main tenants: design, photography, bicycle, and collecting. We covered the photography arm already in our Meet Your Makers series but we didn't find out about his participation in the Cycling Lane until we read about him by chance in a news article. We meet Jeff at Baba Low's at Lorong Kurau in Bangsar. An innocuous nook in the middle of Bangsar, far removed from the frenetic streets of Telawi.
The Bicycle Map Project was born in 2012; an independent initiative by Jeff as he tried to map his way around KL. The map, now in its second edition is "self-initiated" as he calls it. "My studio bears all the cost: designing, man-power, printing, and royalties. I have to pay the government 30 cents per map as royalty." The map covers a 12km by 9km radius of KL and spans approximately 16km diagonally. His rationale is that you can cycle from the edge of the map to the centre of the map (6km) in 30 minutes, at an average speed of 10 to 15km per hour. Add another 15 minutes if you're coming in from the west.
Update 14/5: The original article had erroneously implied that Jeff had beared all the printing cost. He would like to credit Art Printing Works as a sponsor for the first print run. For the second: partial sponsorship from Marin Bikes with support from Ilham Gallery and Hoffset Printing.
It's a map for utility first. It's a map you use to get to places for your work, or for your everyday needs. It's also an advocacy tool. "It's an aspirational map to show them (as in the proverbial "them") what a future can be for cycling in Malaysia," Jeff says. If you think it'll never work in our country you only need to look at our neighbours up north. No, not Tokyo, but Taipei.
In just eight years, Taipei has revolutionised its cycling culture and is in the midst of a three-year project to triple the length of bicycle lanes in the city – and it was already 500km long in 2016. The city implemented many bold policies to achieve this landmark, one of which, was the widening of the roads for pedestrians and cyclists. Much to the ire of motorsits, and even pedestrians! Imagine taking even one lane away from cars in the streets of KL.
Though KL can't begin to compare with Taipei's 500km network, we have already taken the first 7km step, no small feat when you consider that Jeff has lobbied for cycling for the past 6 years through his map.
2012 – Work Begins On The Bicycle Map
Artwork for his first bicycle advocacy movement, Village Bicycles
The Cycling Map covers a 110km² area of KL and denotes (among other things): cycling lanes, main roads, secondary roads, motorcycle lanes, crossings, and connectors.
On top of this, the map identifies elevation of roads, one way traffic, paved or unpaved, lit paths, bus terminals, recreational routes, bicycle parking, rail stations, community markets, village areas, and yes, bicycle shops.
To understand the amount of work that has been pored into the map, you have to first understand what functions the map provides. Jeff and a group of volunteers had to map individual roads for over two years to get to where it is today. They had to identify and map each feature you find on it. Each path on the map comes with recommendations for cycling, as well as calssifications for certain aspects like crossings which have shorthands like UP for underpass, and ST for stairs. If you're interested to get an overview of the project, head to their Facebook page at Village Bicycles.
Taken from a survey at Sg. Buloh's 'Valley of Hope', a leper settlement
Dig into the albums and you'll find many hidden gems sprinkled throughout our city. For example, this survey at Kampung Bellamy unearthed a Christian cemetery for Allied soldiers who died here in Malaysia during World War II, all numbered. The survey also identified many nameless rivers and settlements that can't be found on maps provided by the government; pockets of societies that exists in the heart of KL that have, for the most part, been forgotten in the race towards gentrification.
2014 – The First Print Run
The Cycling Map was first printed in September 2014
The first Cycling Map had 10,000 copies printed and distributed for free. The map had instructions in English, Malay, and Chinese. The release caught the attention of local authorities who had often paid only lip service to the idea of increasing accessibility for cyclist and soon they were contacting Jeff and the community for consults on bicycle lanes.
The map had fulfilled its purpose, it became an advocacy tool. A tool for change, small as it was at the time.
In 2015, KL's mayor, Tan Sri Ahmad Phesal Talib, who had consulted Jeff on KL's first bicycle corridor, launched a dedicated corridor for bicycles that connected Mid Valley to Dataran Merdeka. But like all new things, the corridor faced many teething problems. Motorcyclists would constantly use it illegally for example, and access to the bicycle corridor itself was difficult with limited parking spaces for bicycles (again, taken by motorcyclists).
During the launch of the corridor, the mayor himself had to chastise a motorcyclist who wanted to illegally use the corridor. That said, the groundwork had been laid. A bike-friendly KL was possible – albeit far in the horizon for now.
The map has since been updated and is now in its second print run, available since May 2017 at cyclingkl.blogspot.my.
While the corridor was being built, other forces were working in the background to make the cycling lane a reality. Namely, The Ninth World Urban Forum, a gathering of changemakers with a focus on sustainable urban development, and an urban planning firm called APUDG with an urban agenda that needs the right push. APUDG's Managing Director, Norliza Hashim, founded Urbanice in June 2016, with the plan to advocate for a new urban agenda. They consists of urban planners and were the Local Secretariat and Focal point for The Ninth World Urban Forum.
WUF9 was set to take palce in Malaysia on the 7th of February in 2018 and one of the highlights of the event would be the opening of KL's first city cycling lane. The second step towards a bike-friendly KL was officially underway.
2018 – Painting The Town Blue
Photograph of the blue lane posted by Jeff on Cycling Map Kuala Lumpur's Facebook group
Jeff met Norliza, a cycling advocate herself, in 2015. Their shared love for cycling converged in an idea for a cycling lane in KL. At the same time, DBKL was in the midst of running a five-year masterplan under the urban transportation department in consultation with UTM, also an urban planning firm. One of the proposals in the masterplan was to create city bicycle lanes, or corridors. The intersection of Urbanice, DBKL, and the World Urban Forum provided the perfect opportunity for the bicycle lane to be birthed.
As there were so many parties involved in bringing the cycling lane together, we had to go to the driver of the cycling lane project. The spearhead. For this, we interviewed Norliza, and asked her what it took to make the blue lanes happen.
"The whole idea of doing bicycle lanes started when we wanted a legacy project for Kuala Lumpur in conjunction with the World Urband Forum 9 that Kuala Lumpur hosted from 7th to 13th February 2018," she says.
"Sustainable Urban Mobility was one of our key agenda as we targeted 40% of [commutes in KL] to be done in green mobility modes and this included MRT, LRT, buses and we also wanted to integrate it with cycling. We started a program call Bike 4U and we invited friends and like-minded people to join us and this included Jeffrey Lim whom I know personally. We got the town planners, landscape designers and traffic experts to assist us with the drawings and technical requirements. And of course we brought in O-Bike and our cycle enthusiasts – Jeffrey and Sek San to help us identify the best route possible."
Their plan was to ensure delegates of the forum could travel to the conference by bicycle and connect them to hertiage zones and the CBD. Here's where some serendipity comes in. As Norliza was preparing to present her plan to DBKL, to her surprise, KL City Hall was undertaking a two-kilometer cycle lane project to connect its two offices, i.e., City Hall in Jalan Raja Laut to its Menara 3, Jalan Sultan Ismail. An extension of the cycling corridor that was introduced by Tan Sri Ahmad Phesal in 2015.
"Hence, after several sessions with different levels of authorisation in City Hall, it was agreed that the cycle lane by City Hall route be extended to include the WUF9 Bike 4U route." DBKL then picked up the mantle and started the construction of the blue lane.
The lane was supposed to officially be launched in conjunction with the World Urban Forum, but the launch has since been pushed back. Controversy regarding lane separators arose, among other things, and as resistance arose, the project is now under audit by DBKL to ensure proper implementation for the safety of its users and others.
The Road to a Bike-friendly Kuala Lumpur
Is a bike-friendly KL achievable?
We asked Jeff to describe the bicycle lane in KL and its features. Different countries implement cycling lanes differently and Malaysia has a few rules of its own. "To describe the features of the lane you first need to know the limitations when planning the lane:"
1. The capacity of the road cannot change, i.e., vehicular lanes cannot change. To overcome this, some roads had to be recategorised and the speed limit reduced to accomodate a bicycle lane.
2. Because vehicular lanes cannot be reduced (from two lanes to one lane for example) some bicycle paths had to be shared with pedestrians. Whenever there's not enough space on the road, bikes will have to share with pedestrians.
3. Junctions cannot be modified to suit cyclist. Meaning cyclist will have to convert to pedestrians at traffic lights to cross a junction.
The lanes must always be separate, therefore, it is denoted by a white continuous line to make it illegal for motorcycles and cars to enter the lane. The lanes were painted blue to raise awareness of the lane, and to further distinguish it from the rest of the road.
"The first thing people are going to remember, is the first death," Jeff says. "So, the first thing is always safety. That's why they're always very conservative [in the design]."
We all know how Malaysians complain and if one motorcyclists falls nearby a road separator, it's suddenly the road separator's fault. It only takes one viral news item and that would spell the end for the blue cycling lanes in KL. To that end, the bicycle lane is in the midst of further protection. A protection by law.
Gazetting The Bicycle Lane
"By law, there is nothing that will cover or denote an area or space as a bicycle dedicated lane. When they first introduce bus lanes it was supposed to give priority to buses to bypass traffic jams. That means by law, this lane is protected and provided for buses – and now public vehicles like taxis.
"So right now, they are trying to gazette this space [bicycle lanes] – which has never been done before. Because by law, bicycles are considered part of road traffic."
What's the difference if the bicycle lane is gazetted?
"For one, it offers a protection by law. And that also protects this space, then it's written on paper in black and white. It can be put on maps, on ordinance maps, it can then be recognised by the world and it will appear on Google Maps. That's why when you try to click on the bicycle navigation on Google Maps, it doesn't appear, because its not approved by law. [Also] if they're going to remove the lane one day, they have to go through parliament – they have to go through the law."
So it's about permanance?
"Recognition. The most important thing is recognition."
Recognition for the cycling lane. Recognition for cyclist who have been advocating for a greener Malaysia. Recognition for a volunteer project by hundreds of regular cyclists who are now witnessing the first steps towards a bike-friendly Malaysia.
The collection of bicycles in Jeff's studio
Our thanks to Jeff Lim and Norliza for their contributions to this article.
Norliza would like to credit City Hall Kuala Lumpur for making KL's cycling lane a success and also to AJM Planning and Urban Design Group Sdn Bhd, Studio 25, Perunding Atur Sdn Bhd, O-Bikes, and Ng Sek San for their continued support for the project.