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Big future for bicycles in Yangon


After being employed at a new job for eight months in an office in Tamwe, Yangon, Ko Tin Htoo Aung decided to buy an e-bike.

“I bought it because I thought it would be much better than riding on crowded buses,” he said about his decision to spend of K250,000 (US$163) on his electric bicycle.

He says going to office on hs bike saves much more time then taking a bus and this gives him more time with his family. Previously, it took over an hour from South Dagon township where he lives to Tamwe where he is working, but now, thanks to his e-bike, it takes just 45 minutes for the 13-kilometer journey.

Every Yangonite suffers the serious traffic congestion of Yangon that has only worsened over time. For those who live in suburban areas like Shwepyitha and Hlaingtharyar townships, a minimum of two hours is spent on a one-way trip downtown. Due to the age of the railway system, most people still have to rely on the bus system.

More people living and working in the city have started to use other means to avoid the traffic jams they face every day. Among them are people such as Ko Tin Htoo Aung who have switched from buses to bicycles and the number of such people is on the rise. Bicycles running among and between cars on Yangon’s roads have become a regular sight these days.

There are over seven million people living in Yangon. According to the data from NUMBEO, crowd-sourced global database, 49.5 people of Yangon’s population uses cars while 50.4 pc choose either bicycles or walking for transport. This means more than half of Yangon’s population are actively trying to avoid crowded buses.

Although people ride bicycles, there are no special signs or lanes on Yangon’s roads for bicyclists. Technically, bicyclists are not allowed on some major roads such as Pyay Road, Kabar Aye Pagoda Road and U Wisara Road that pass through six downtown townships – Lanmadaw, Pazundaung, Latha, Botahtaung, Pabedan and Kyauktada.

A traffic police officer from No(2) Office of Traffic Police (Yangon) said this cannot be changed until new regulations emerge.

In any case, some cyclists do not know that there are roads closed to cycling in Yango, or choose to ignore the rules.

U Cho, who leads a campaign to promote cycling in the city said, riders are allowed to cross the restricted roads but not to ride along them. He said cyclists should also always remember to keep to the right lane for slow vehicles.

Myanmar’s roads use the right-hand traffic system in which all vehicles including bicycles keep to the right side of the road unless passing other vehicles. However, some cyclists do not follow the rules, and arguments often happen between riders and drivers.

“Some cyclists also think they do not have to follow traffic lights and cross junctions even when the light is red, when they should be stopping like all other vehicles.

“Cyclists in Yangon hope that the government will provide bicycle lanes when it builds new roads or does road expansion. It would also be better if a one-metre-wide space is marked out with yellow lines for bicycles on existing roads. So far, no particular lanes have been provided for bicycles so cars and cyclists share the roads,” said U Cho.

To overcome this situation, hundreds of cyclists in Yangon are holding monthly cycling activities on every last Sunday of the month in each district. By doing like this, people will take notice of cycling and if more and more commuters use bicycles, the problem of traffic congestion can be reduced, said U Cho who is also secretary of Yangon Region’s subcommittee for cycling.

Instead of relying on motor vehicles so much, bicycles would reduce traffic congestion and exhaust fumes that contribute greatly to pollution in the city. As an added benefit, cycling is also very good for physical health U Cho says. According to NUMBEO’s data, Yangon is one of cities which have high level of air pollution in the world.

According to the study, the use of bicycles in Netherlands is the highest in the world. In Asia, Japan has the highest percentage of cyclists at 56.9 percent. Routes and signs for cyclists and the bicycle parking places are common sights in Japan’s cities.

“The children cycle to schools. The parents no longer take their children in their own cars to schools like Myanmar,” said Ko Myat Thu Aung, a Myanmar citizen who lives in Chiba of Japan.

“Japanese schools teach the children about traffic rules and there are very few people who violate the rules, he said. It is very convenient to cycle in Japan as they make zebra crossings systematically. They place switches on traffic lights and pedestrians and cyclists who want to cross the road can stop the cars for a while by pressing the switch,” Ko Myat Thu Aung.

“There are also regulations for cyclists to follow such as not riding in tandem, riding while carrying the umbrella and listening to headphones,” said Ma Mon, another Myanmar citizen living in Shizuoka.

“This means cycling is much more systematic in Japan and cyclists have the same rights as drivers “,Ma Mon said.

Myanmar ranks second for road accidents in Southeast Asian countries. More than 60c of road deaths are mostly pedestrians crossing the road, motorcyclists and cyclists.

“A separate lane for cycling is not needed as it is okay to systematically share the existing lanes,” said Ko Kyaw Myo Lwin who cycles from his home in Thuwunna to his office in Sule.

He saves 30 minutes for his 9km trip by cycling while the bus would take an hour. Although there are rules not to ride a bicycle in the downtown area, no one is taking action either. He thinks the officers are turning a blind eye as they know of the traffic congestion as well.

Although the people cycling are trying to save money and time, they need to ride according to the rules and watch out for the dangers as well, said researcher Ko Lin Myat who rides a bicycle from Dawbon Township to Thingangyun on a daily basis. He also said that it is best to know the traffic rules.

“The saying ‘You own a car, not a road’, is not true here in Yangon. Drivers own the roads and we people cycling to work and returning home have to put our lives on the line every morning and evening,” he said.

The biggest problems for the people riding a bike are that there are no rules and lanes for cycling. As he doesn’t want to depend on public transport, he has to take his own responsibility. He has installed a powerful electric horn, reflective stickers, night lights and wear jeans and a helmet to avoid getting into an accident.

There are also drivers who get annoyed by the cyclists.

“They shouldn’t ride against the flow of traffic, and they should not cross lanes or change direction abruptly,” said Ko Kyaw Lwin, adding that has to take more care driving because of reckless cyclists.

“If you ride in downtown areas, doing 10 to 20 km is fine depending on the route,” said U Cho. Cyclists can overtake the cars when in traffic congestion, but they shouldn’t race against cars, he suggested.

Electric bikes, mountain bikes and women’s bikes are mostly used in Yangon. Bike prices vary from K40,000 to K100,000 for affordable models. Some people use their bikes as a means of transport for their commute and for delivery of goods while there are also bike enthusiasts who ride for fun and exercise. People with same hobbies tend to ride in groups according to the types of their bikes.

Regardless of the reasons for riding, each and every cyclist needs to follow traffic rules, leading Yangon bike activists say, adding that the number of bike riders is expected to grow in Yangon in the near future.

Source: Myanmar Times

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