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President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s habit to give away bicycles to some students and even government officials in Indonesia has quickly become a trademark. But, has our government provided a safe infrastructure for the cyclists?

Yogyakarta was among the few Indonesian cities that promote biking to work and school through its SEGO SEGAWE program. Launched in 2008, the program aims to improve air quality, save energy and improve community’s health.

Despite its noble intention, ironically early this year, a collision with a motorcycle took a toll on the life of Sigit Haryanta, a cyclist who also happened to be the head of Yogyakarta provincial transportation agency. This unfortunate event should be a reminder that traffic crash can hit everyone from all levels, including policymakers, and should serve as a momentum of evaluating Indonesia's road safety for cyclists.

A cyclist is a vulnerable road user, more so if compared to those who ride motorized vehicles. An EMBARQ-WRI issue brief entitled “Saving Lives with Sustainable Transport” elaborates some evidence suggesting that higher cycling volume leads to lower injuries and fatalities not only for cyclists but also other road users. Research by P.L.Jacobsen indicated that motorists tend to control their behavior if the number of cyclists and pedestrians are high, thus reducing traffic crashes.

Copenhagen, a city with a high share of cycling, accounting for 32 percent of mode share, experienced a decrease in cyclist injuries and fatalities per kilometer. Additionally, based on a research published in the Journal of Transport & Health, Amsterdam experienced reduced traffic crashes to 67 percent between 1980 and 2011 when its cycling share increased.

We need to note, however, that traffic crash involving cyclists is not solely caused by cycling volume, but also by cycling infrastructure. Previous studies demonstrated that those who cycled on a specific cycle track have lower crash risk than those who cycled on the street.

Bike specific lanes, as provided by the Copenhagen government, have been proven to make cycling safer, more comfortable and faster. On top of promoting safety, protected cycle lane also contributes to an increase in cycling use. A study by Portland State University in US cities demonstrated that the installation of protected bike lanes results in an increase of ridership by 21 to 171 percent.

Most of developing countries, unfortunately, face an opposite situation compared to Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Private motorized vehicle use has increasingly presented challenges in traffic safety. For instance, a high number of motorcycles in Vietnam lead to considerable traffic fatalities and injuries.

Indonesia also experiences the similar problem. Based on the National Police data, motorcycle crashes in Indonesia account for 72 percent of traffic accidents due to the high share of motorcycle use. On the other hand, cycling in Indonesia is still marginalized with only 2.3 percent share of transport mode. Lack of infrastructure, high mobility and high risk for cyclist are reasons that make cycling unattractive compared to other modes.

That said, Indonesia still has an opportunity to increase cycling volume. The use of cycling can firstly be enhanced for short travel distance (2.5 - 5 km), as shown by experience in Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Considering the urban sprawl in most cities in Indonesia, there is a need to integrate cycling infrastructure and public transport to accommodate longer travel distance.

City leaders in Indonesia have realized this opportunity by installing bike lanes along 5-10 km in cities such as Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta and Surakarta. In the future, better cycling infrastructure should be well built to ensure the safety of cyclists.

Communities also play an important role in encouraging the government to provide safe cycling infrastructure. Communities in the Netherlands actively demanded that the government provide cycling infrastructure when the number of cycling fatalities reached its peak in 1972 due to collision with motorized vehicles. In Indonesia, some communities have already started to campaign or educate public about cycling use. Unfortunately, most of the campaigns are still geared towards promoting cycling as an activity in spare time. Mainstreaming cycling in daily lives is the homework for in-country’s cycling enthusiasts.

We can no longer accept traffic crash that always haunts vulnerable road users such as cyclist. Nor we can accept to feel safe in cycling only for one day during Car Free Day.

Changes in the mindset of communities and government hold promise to improve cycling infrastructure and an increase in cycling use. A cycling network that is integrated with public transport and safer infrastructure has to be provided to increase the use of cycling.

While it might not take a night to make cycling a preferable mode in Indonesia, we should try to increase the use of cycling and reduce traffic fatalities and injuries.