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Blazing Saddles: Discovering pathways to better biking

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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PHUKET: Governor Nisit Jansomwong’s recent announcement that work on eagerly awaited bike lanes will start in October 2016 with an approved budget of over 50 million baht, is terrific news.

The Governor said, “Over 30 million baht from the 2016 fiscal year budget has been approved for the development of the Bang Wad Reservoir, which will include the installation of bike lanes and we have also set aside 20 million baht to build bike lanes on 10 km of Sakdidet Road, running along both sides.”

Plans for recreational development of both Bang Wad Dam and Bang Neaw Dam in Thalang were tabled by former Phuket Provincial Administration Organization President, the late Paiboon Upatising, as early as 2011. In addition to bike lanes Khun Paiboon’s vision included jogging tracks, botanical gardens, recreational areas and retail infrastructure.

Governor Nisit encouraged local governments to maintain the cycling trend in Phuket while pointing out that Bang Wad Reservoir will be a good addition for promoting sport tourism.
He said, “Local people have requested that Bang Wad Reservoir be redeveloped into a new place for people to relax and to attract more tourists to Phuket. We have already held several marathons on the island. In the future, I would like to see more cycling events. Phuket’s landscape is really beautiful and cycling is good for health.”

This flurry of cycling-related endeavor follows the hugely successful ‘Bike for Mom’ event on Sunday August 16th in honor of HM Queen Sirikit’s 83rd birthday. The national cycling event broke the Guinness World Record for the largest number of cyclists riding at the same time and was a very welcome piece of positive Thailand and tourism-related news, prior to the appalling events at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok.

While encouraging, the actual commencement of work at Bang Wad Dam is over a year away and indeed when I was cycling around the dam’s tree-covered loop road last week, it was difficult to see what purpose new cycle lanes would actually serve.

The road itself is very nearly free of traffic and already offers some of the best cycling on the island, surrounded by beautiful hillsides and water vistas. Much of the road has been recently re-surfaced, making for perfect cycling as long as you remain alert to occasional soi dogs sleeping on the road!

Certainly when they are built, Phuket’s new cycle paths should be situated adjacent to water wherever possible, as there’s a very calming mental effect of cycling by water, as I recently discovered when I was back in England.

While there, I cycled two of that country’s top ten listed cycle routes as rated by the British Tourist Association and both are adjacent to waterways.

My Phuket-based friend Steve Lawrence and I rode the 50-kilometer circuit around Rutland Water, one of Europe’s largest artificial reservoirs in late June. The route begins and ends in the historic town of Oakham and circles around this delightful lake with its sailing and trout fishing clubs, abundant wildlife sanctuaries and of course a number of friendly country pubs for food and ‘rehydrating’ pints of local ale.

I also cycled the famous Kennet and Avon canal ride which has been voted England’s single best overall bike ride in many polls. The ride starts at Reading 30 kilometers west of London and runs across the heart of central southern England through Devizes, Malborough, Bath and finally down to the port city of Bristol. The riding is mainly on the towpaths of the ancient canal with sections adjacent to the beautiful Kennet and the Avon rivers as well.

The three-day ride was a stunningly beautiful meditation on rural tranquility through quintessential English countryside that seemed to transport me back to a quieter, gentler time without iPhones, traffic snarls and frayed, sleep-deprived modern commuters.

In Phuket a fine example of how calming cycling beside water can be can already be experienced if you cycle down Soi Palai off Chaofah Road East past the Phuket Zoo. At the end of the soi you will come to a dead-end overlooking Chalong Bay and find a new pier being constructed next to the well-known Parlai Seafood Restaurant. Turn left onto the raised concrete path that runs for a couple of kilometers overlooking delightful vistas of Chalong Bay, Lon Island and Cape Panwa. You’ll get a first class experience of what traffic-free waterside cycling in Phuket could be like, if paths like these were extended to run around many of our shores.

The concrete pathway is just two meters wide and is situated on land that serves no commercial purpose, so it would be easy, cheap and fast to construct, or extend, such walking and cycling pathways as these.

It makes one wonder why we have to wait over a year and spend millions of taxpayer’s baht to build at Bang Wad Dam, where the cycling is already excellent and traffic-free.

— Baz Daniel

 

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