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How a crowdsourced map started a cycle revolution in Kuala Lumpur

As residents identified routes, the council began to turn them into cycle paths

A crowd-sourced map has changed Kuala Lumpur’s attitudes from being a city that made bicycles to a city that rode them, according to a graphic designer who has spent three years mapping it for cyclists.

“I was a bit naive, I thought it would be easy,” Jeffrey Lim told the Guardian.

It’s unsurprising that in a country with 93 per cent household car insurance, it wasn’t.

“We were a nation which built bicycles. But we forgot,” said Lim, who wanted to get people cycling “not for leisure, but for transportation, for utility.”

“It was aspirational. Because the map would have to come before the infrastructure.”

He handed out a blank map to volunteers, who were asked to explore their local routes and mark those that were accessible to cyclists.

At weekly gatherings, volunteers shared their findings, and every week, more came.

“I stopped counting when it went over 50,” said Lim. “At that point, I had to start a Facebook group specifically for this project.

“Slowly, the map took over my life.”

The map was completed last year and is now printed in three languages – English, Chinese and Malay – and distributed for free.

Local councils now want to build on the findings, and create actual cycle lanes where there are currently none.

“It was interesting to see they took it seriously,” said Lim.

“Federal government, state governments, departments and city councils – they were all pointing fingers at each other.”

One 5km cycle lane has now been built, and two further ones funded with £765,000.

“I’m happy the map project is over. I’m happy that we have a document and I’m glad that other people find it useful,” said Lim. “I wanted to change people’s perception about cycling. That was the most important thing.

“The map connected all these like-minded people and created a strong community,” says Lim. “It started the ball rolling. No matter how small the move, it’s still a stepping stone for the next move – by whoever.”

Earlier this year we reported how the mayor of Kuala Lumpur made a unique offer to the city's business: if enough turned off their lights for Earth Hour, he would introduce new and safe cycling routes.

The Sun Daily's Zaim Zamani reported that Mayor Datuk Seri Ahmad Phesal Talib said that when Kuala Lumpur City Hall launched the city's participation in Earth Hour in 2013, 86 buildings participated. In 2014 that rose to to 277 buildings.

"So for year 2015, I have set a target of getting 350 buildings to join the Earth Hour campaign, and if this target is achieved, they will be rewarded," Ahmad Phesal said.

Earth Hour aims to highlight the dangers of climate change with a symbolic hour of darkness starting at 8:30 pm local time on Saturday March 28. It was started as a lights-off event in Sydney, Australia in 2007. Since then it has grown to include around 7,000 cities in more than 162 countries and territories around the world.

It is not clear whether Kuala Lumpur achieved its target.

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