Cambodia's Cyclists “Beg” for their Space on the Roads

Roads are built for all drivers and passengers. But in Cambodia, cyclists’ right to safely navigate on the roads seems to be overlooked.

Roads, perhaps one of the most publicly used spaces, are sort of the vital blood vessels of every nation. They are shared by all kinds of commuters, from the heavy-loaded truck to the bulldozer drivers, the family sedan car drivers to the motorcycle riders. Roads keep people moving with efficient timing and speed for relatively low cost. However, not all road traffics look the same. Some major differences can be seen. From the car-packed highways in the United States to the bicycle cities in the Netherlands and places that lay between those two, every road in different regions has its own distinct characteristics.

In Cambodia, and especially in the capital city of Phnom Penh, pretty much every road is shared by a surprising variety of vehicles. From 30-or-so-ton container trucks to the three-wheeler rickshaws. From the improvised object-carrying trailers, which can be attached to the ordinary semi-automatic transmission motorbikes, to the simple 110cc scooters, the roads in Phnom Penh do look a bit diversified in terms of vehicles types.

But there is another type of simple machine that some drivers and riders here, in Phnom Penh, may seem to overlook. That type of simple machine is the bicycle. The habit of using bicycles as a way to commute around town is not that popular in Phnom Penh. This is due to the fact that scooters, for example the 110cc ones, are fairly affordable and easy to operate as well as maintain. They consume very little gasoline and gasoline prices in Cambodia are affordable for many at this point. On the other hand, Phnom Penh frequently experiences warm to hot weather. Commuting to workplaces or to schools on a bicycle while sweating all over one's shirt is neither practical nor enjoyable.

However, over the past years, the habit of riding bicycles around town seems to have gained some noticeable attraction. Both old and young begin to pedal more on their hybrid bikes or their road bikes. In the early morning, when the sky is still its pale blue-ish color, elderly people can be seen pedaling their simple machines slowly yet firmly around their community. For many of them, maintaining a healthy lifestyle while minimizing risks of disease can be counted as their ultimate goal. For youngsters with environmental awareness, riding bicycles may minimize their carbon footprint, reduce noise pollution and promote the idea of a green city. For some stable-income families, comparably expensive and high-quality bicycles have somehow become vehicles of luxury and style.

Despite all these trends and changes, from some of the cyclists’ point of view, Phnom Penh is not really designed to meet the needs of cyclists. It is somewhat a “chicken and egg” situation. It can be argued that there are far fewer cyclists than motorists because Phnom Penh is not really designed for the use of bicycles. However, Phnom Penh is not planned for the use of bicycles since there are fewer cyclists than motorists. This vicious cycle can be quite tricky to pinpoint the exact starting point.

On the other hand, the human factor does come into play. Many motorists show less respect when it comes to cyclists. Due to their smaller size and slower speed, cyclists are usually outmaneuvered with near misses by some of the motorists. Along the intersections, cyclists are usually cut off by the larger cars or motorbikes. Sometimes, during peak hours, cyclists are frequently forced to ride on sidewalks while the motorists invasively occupy every available centimeter at the furthest sides of the roads. When the sun is out, the drop of visibility can be a nightmare for some cyclists.

Having a smaller rear light or not having any warning light at all attached to their bicycles can be a dangerous situation for cyclists in a city where safe speed limit is not really considered. On some major boulevards, designated cycling lanes are created. For cyclists, that is a very exciting thing to see. However, small interferences still occur. Some cars and rickshaws still park or stop on the cycling lanes, forcing the cyclists to, once again, enter the motorist lane.

Cyclists should be given more respect on the roads! They are not meant to be treated disrespectfully by cars or motorbikes. Cyclists are even more prone to impact when involved in accidents. Under the scorching sun, they struggle to breathe. Behind the dusty trucks loaded with sand, they endure the dirt that accumulate in their eyes. During heavy rains, they try paddling forward despite having to put themselves at risk on the muddy and oily roads. While waiting for the stop light, they manage to withstand the boiling air from nearby car engines. Even though the city is not yet designed for cyclists, at least other motorists should be able to show some respect. Some cyclists just want to cycle to have a better health. Some cyclists just want to pollute less, while other cyclists choose to cycle since they somehow cannot even afford a decent motorbike. Even though their contribution to reduce air pollution, traffic congestion or noise pollution is minute and practically nothing, at least it is technically something. When envisioning a green city, one can think of a city full of cyclists and pedestrians walking under the shade of beautifully-planted trees and well-laid gardens along the sidewalks.

To meet cyclists' demands, a huge and time-consuming investment from the government is to be undertaken. Despite all these challenges, it is better than nothing for the government to start considering creating a desirable atmosphere and environment for cyclists both in the capital city and the provinces.

While the above-mentioned idea is still to be a long-term commitment, perhaps the next time you see cyclists commuting, please give them some space to ride. Cyclists do share the roads!


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