KL Car Free Day? More like KL 2 Measly Cycling Hours

Okay fine. DBKL has rebranded the whole thing as KL Car Free Morning  but 2 hours from 7-9am doth not a morning make.

I was excited when I first heard of KL Car Free Day back in September 2013. I think I even posted it on Facebook in a move to promote the event. Information on the event was scarce back then and vague at best. Local newspapers/ online news portals only reported the names of the roads that will be closed. Not a single car-free route was given.

NST car free sunday 22 Septsource

Since NST reported that the car-free even was until 11am, my sister and I and took the LRT from Bangsar to Dang Wangi a little before 9am and reached there around quarter past 9. The moment I walked out from the station, I was shocked to find people driving their cars along Jalan Dang Wangi.

I went back inside the station and asked a RapidKL personnel about the car-free event and he told me nonchalantly, “dah habis…” I told him that the papers reported that the event will continue until 11am but he just replied, “cubalah pergi Bukit Bintang, kat sana masih mungkin masih ada.” My sister and I contemplated to take the monorail from Bukit Nanas to Bukit Bintang to check it out but as we walked towards Bukit Nanas monorail station, we decided not to when we saw vehicles whooshing past Jalan Sultan Ismail like a car-free event never even took place.

We did see several groups of cyclists in full gear (complete with race numbers) and a television crew interviewing some of them. Whatever it was, the scene outside Dang Wangi Station slightly before 9.30am looked like a cycling race just took place and not a car-free event (which was supposed to happen after the race). I guess my disappointment stemmed from the fact that I expected the car-free event to resemble something like Paris Respire — where city folks can walk about/ride around in a leisurely manner from morning till late afternoon.

Maybe there were casual goers to the event, but seeing the cyclists with their jerseys, helmets and expensive looking bicycles put us off. It made the car-free event looked like it was catered more for competitive cyclists and not for people who just wanted to have a relaxing walk/ride around the city.

My sister and I did end up walking all the way to KLCC (alongside cars and vehicles) that day but we have yet to participate in the Car-Free Event because:

a) we don’t want to wake up early on Sunday just to catch 2-hours of this gimmicky event.

b) we don’t want to get hit by some selfish roadies who zip down the road like bats out of hell. (Do read the article linked. The writer gave a good review of the event).

c) it looks boring. KL Car-Free Morning is all about riding the bicycle around the city. What’s there to do beside that? The shops are closed, no street vendors, no nothing. Folks just zoom around the city and then go home.

The Star article also quoted the MNCF deputy president saying that the car-free event is an effort to reduce carbon footprint. That is a bit of a stretch, isn’t it? I mean if carbon emission reduction is City Hall’s main objective why have the event on a Sunday morning? Who drives to the city on Sundays during those hours anyway? In fact, the Car Free Morning probably contributes to more carbon emission with people thronging the city in cars just to join the event.

I do applaud the Cycling Hour Car-Free initiative by City Hall but perhaps they should learn from their Penang counterpart on how to make the event more exciting and more inclusive to all (and not just serious cyclists).

Check out Occupy Beach Street, Penang,– they have a variety of street performances from all over the world (snake charmers, belly dancers, hula hoopers, violinists, clowns, fire breathers), photography contests, zumba party, traditional games, kids workshops and many more and these things happen every week! Also check out the pictures of people who cycled at Occupy Beach Street, they looked like casual riders (like me!) — no imposing jerseys, gloves, and helmets. Yes, sans helmets. Check out this NY Times article: To Encourage Biking, Cities Lose the Helmets.

The myriad of activities at Occupy Beach Street promotes social interaction which is more of the point of having such car-free event.

Viktor Olsson of Lund University writes,

Relating back to the green, sustainable cities, it could be argued that sustainability is not only about environmental policies, but also social policies [bold emphasis mine]. One could argue, that within both environmental and social policies, cultural diversity will most likely have an impact, whether it concerns, for example recycling (Miafodzyeva, Brandt, Andersson 2013), trust between people or feeling safe in the streets of different areas of the city.

According to University of Washington,

Communities where residents express high mutual trust and reciprocity have been linked with lower homicide rates. Neighborhoods lacking social cohesion and community wellness conversely, have been related to higher rates of social disorder, anxiety, and depression.

On another note, DBKL has provided a route map for the event, unlike in the earlier days where they just mentioned the street names that will be closed for the car-free event.

car free routesource

Another good initiative is the 100 free bicycles sponsored by OCBC. 100 is a small number though, perhaps other companies can sponsor bicycles too ( perhaps Public Bank so that some can start from KLCC?) or cycling companies can provide rental services.10256506_672144472890195_5442765052877761834_o source

After almost 2 years smarting over the First Car-Free Event, I would like to try it again. However 2 hours of car-free event is way too short, I really couldn’t be arsed to wake up early on Sundays just to cycle around the city. Maybe I’ll do it once just to try but I really don’t think I’d do it week after week just for that.

I truly hope to see more activities lined up for the car-free event to make it more enjoyable for non-serious cyclists. It would be great if City Hall can extend the Car-Free hours to include the Free Dataran Merdeka Heritage Guided Tour. I’m sure tourists (and locals alike) would love to walk around a vehicle-free KL.

By the way in Jakarta, all members of society — including civil society groups and businesses — were allowed to make use of the weekly Car Free event (yes, including peaceful rallies). Jakarta Car-Free Day is from 6am -11am which still is a misnomer. This Indonesian journalist articulated his grouse succinctly when he said,

Having a car-free day that only lasts until 11 am is ridiculous though, an insult to the term.

I guess it comes down to the kinds of activities people would do on the streets when the cars are removed. The economic impact of having no cars in the city’s primary lanes for an entire day is undoubtedly enormous but I wonder if it would be possible to have it minimized or even substituted by having open air markets along certain stretches of Sudirman. I also wonder if the government would replan the city to accommodate and encourage walking/cycling (LMAO who am I kidding? )

But seriously, I think they should have kept it at least until midday though, instead of only until 11 am.

While I agree with the journalist that the car-free hours should be extended, I disagree with his opinion that having no cars in the city would have a negative impact on the economy.

On the contrary, businesses along the route of Sunday Street event in San Francisco reported a 44 percent increase in customer activity and sales, with an average increase of $466 in net revenue (source). More importantly is the health cost benefit: for every dollar spent on running Sunday Streets yields an estimated savings of $2.32 in medical costs (source). Plus there are lasting benefits that aren’t as easy for researchers to measure, such as the increased sense of community, and the effect of discovering a new neighborhood (source).

We would never know if the positive economic effects reported in San Fran can be seen in KL — hardly any shops are open from 7 to 9am.

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2 thoughts on “KL Car Free Day? More like KL 2 Measly Cycling Hours”

  1. I do t cycle
    I rolledblade. And I see many people
    From Bon competitive backgrounds in many other disciplines taking part. Sure not all shops are open. But plenty of mamaks and convenient stores are open for drinks along the way. It’s about being healthy more than window shopping.

    1. Hey thanks for the comment! And thank you for letting me know that there are mamaks and convenient
      stores open along the way for a quick bite.

      You are right, the event is supposed to encourage healthy habits and to advocate sustainable modes of transportation but 2 hours from 7-9am is too short. Not everyone is a morning person.

      I suppose the reason the authorities limit the hours is because they are afraid that it might have a negative impact on the economy and but cities with extended car-free hours have shown that having an extended car-free day boosted the economy.

      Another reason I could think of is that closing the streets would make it more difficult to travel and create congestions on the peripheral roads around the city. But if the aim is to change the transports norm to make it sustainable then the people have to be trained accept the changes. I believe people are adaptable and if you have a proper traffic re-routing plan, they will adjust to the changes eventually.

      Enough of my boring theoretical comment, it is better for me to experience it myself, amirite? After all several years have past since the first car-free event and I’m sure it has improved a lot since then.

      Thanks again for your comment. It has reignited my interest in the car-free event and I’ve decided to join in this weekend 🙂

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