Crossing Cambodia

Friday, May 30, 2008

Cycle away

Cycle your way to cheaper living

Dear Editor,
As the price of gasoline is skyrocketing, many Cambodians have thought about the ways to cut the cost of travel by using other alternative means of transport.
I have personally decided to cycle to work a few times a week. In so doing, I am able to save some money I would spend on gasoline to cover the rising price of food.
Walking or riding a bicycle is also good for health. Nowadays, we frequently hear news of friends suddenly falling sick or dying from obesity related illnesses like high blood pressure and heart attacks. By riding a bicycle to work, I feel better and I don't need the painful traditional coining Kos Kchol for occasional indispositions like before.
Riding a bicycle is also good for the environment in this increasingly polluted capital of Phnom Penh as it does not produce toxic emission like cars and motorcycles. Meanwhile, using bicycles also helps reduce traffic congestion.
However, cycling in Phnom Penh these days can also have bad consequences. Back in the 1980s, possessing a bicycle was like owning a luxury car for most Cambodians, so the cyclists also received a lot of respect from others. Because of this mutual respect, I was able to ride my bicycle to school without a single accident for nearly ten years.
Now things have changed. Except for foreigners, riding a bicycle in Cambodia today is considered a sign of low social status by many Cambodians. Some car or moto-cycle drivers would wildly honk along a busy street to disperse cyclists and pedestrians as if they were cows blocking their way.
Worse still, pedestrians and cyclists can hardly find a safe road to travel on. More than 15 years ago, Phnom Penh streets were clearly divided into appropriate lanes for cars, motorcycles and bicycles, while pedestrians traveled on the sidewalks. Now, cyclists have to be squashed between cars and motorcycles or even pushed onto the sidewalk with pedestrians who also find it harder to walk. Except for a few boulevards, most sidewalks in Phnom Penh are now used as a parking place or to display goods for sale. Nevertheless, walking or cycling is still a good way to move around the city.
To help reduce expenditure on gasoline and save the environment should encourage people to walk or ride a bicycle in the city instead of driving their cars or motorcycles. They also need to reserve part of the side walks for pedestrians and secure a safe lane for cyclists. Government officials and civil servants can also take the lead by walking or cycling to work, while strictly strengthening the traffic rules.

Moeun Chhean Nariddh
Phnom Penh
From the most recent Phnom Penh Post (May 30 - June 12, 2008). The author brings forward a number of issues related to traffic in Cambodia.

Yes, at a recent meeting on wages, staff were complaining about the costs of living: 'we even have to go by bicycle to work / market'. Hardly an argument to claim a wage increase, but it does show how cycling is frowned upon.

Crossing Cambodia has been cycling Phnom Penh for nearly 3 years and there are not many of us, mostly foreign lunatics. Increasingly, congestion and Cambodian society looking down on those less fortunate, has taken much pleasure out of cycling the city, if one can even consider this a pleasure.

Are there much more bikes now on the street? No, if anything, the roads are getting clogged more and more by increasing amounts of motorized traffic. This clogging thus gives rise to more effectiveness to cyclists: the ultimate traffic jam busters!

One also has to place large question marks towards the future of the city. Besides lacking law enforcement, there is absolute no vision about how to contain the scores of (new) drivers and their vehicles. Many streets are already bursting at their seems and the consequence is that private initiative is leading investors to invest in gated communities far away from the city center. The city center lacks parking spaces, low cost public transport, green spaces and efficient ways of dealing with traffic. And not much is being done about it.

p.s. does anyone know what Kos Kchol is?
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