STW Sundays #1: Jeffrey Lim, on Building a Bicycle Route Map in KL

Save-The-World Sundays is a series of interviews conducted with remarkable individuals who have started environmental initiatives and movements. This Sunday, we feature Jeffrey Lim and his project of building a cycling map for Kuala Lumpur. Jeffrey Lim is a graphic designer by training, and runs Studio 25, a design studio focused on graphic design, photography and bicycles.

1. What is your Save-The-World project?

Ahaha, yes I might have started this idealistically as a ‘save the world’ project. It is an independent design and cycling initiative, to create a bicycle map of Kuala Lumpur City.

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2. What inspired you to start the project?

As a cyclist, printed-on-paper google maps were the best things I had to navigate the city.  Being a local resident in Ampang and Bangsar, I knew of many shortcuts and alternative cycling routes around that area, but venturing out and beyond posed a bit of a challenge. Commuting abroad, in London especially, I realised the importance of a good map, a journey planner, and local knowledge of the area. I tried to source for good base-maps of KL, but there were none. What I was able to find was mostly out-of-date, erroneous, at the wrong scale, and badly designed. Being a graphic designer with experience in designing maps, I set off to design a map with routes specifically for cycling.

3. What is rewarding about your project?

Beyond the physical aspect of the printed map, the project also hopes to encourage and to empower road users on the topic of cycling activism. Connecting a group of volunteers from different genres of cycling groups, having film screenings of documentaries (about cycling activism and advocacy), and bringing in the humanity aspect are all important points for the project. Apart from the craft of designing and print which really motivates me, it is the community and the benefit to humanity that really inspires me. And how my design skills can have a more direct effect on society, to my home – Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia.

I cycle a lot, I join the Critical Mass, I try to live sustainably and understand more about the ‘peak oil’ scenario. I also collect maps as reference and study map designs. Environmental and visual languages form part of my working skills. Designing a map format, and understanding how it is viewed (and used) is quite a task. However, I am passionate about good design and management, and applying what I do professionally into this project of cycling activism makes it very fulfilling.

4. How is your project structured?

There are 6 phases in the project:
Phase 1: Base map
Phase 2: Volunteers
Phase 3: Testing
Phase 4: Details
Phase 5: Finalising
Phase 6: Print and Distribution
Phase 7: BIG BICYCLE PARTY

In each phase it’s broken down into 2 categories: Map Building and Publicity & Advocacy. At the end of each phase are goals to be achieved before proceeding to the next phase. The project is scheduled to be completed at the end of 2013. For a detailed view of the phases, click here.

5. Which phase are you right now?

We are currently at Phase 3 (Testing) of the project. We published the 1st working draft in mid April, and just produced the map extension.

As I mentioned, there are two parts to each phase – (1) Map Building, and (2) Publicity & Advocacy. Under Map Building, we will start testing the routes, surveying and covering the empty areas on the map, identifying key connectors between districts and waterways for development, and completing the map extension that will connect people of PJ to KL. Under Publicity & Advocacy, we will start ‘Involving the Authorities’ – by connecting with the city councils, and sharing the project with other state councils, ministries, and local and regional governments. At the same time we are building a bigger volunteer base and public support.

We have much to do in Phase 3. The goals in this phase are to produce and distribute the map extension, and publish a 2nd working draft. It’s in the 4th phase where we would have a more concrete map with routes, to start sharing our findings with the authorities.

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6. What difficulties do you face while working on the project?

The project is labour intensive. Keeping this project independent means that everything has to be done by ourselves in our free time. There is a lot of sacrifice from the volunteers, although some of them are already in the ‘field’. A big thanks to all of them. Designing a printed map takes many man-hours. I expanded the map area 3 times after getting some feedback.

An often-received critique is the choice of medium, as we chose print instead of a digital interface. There is, however, an avenue for developing this into digital format which can be transferable between different mapping platforms. We are always open to assistance in developing this. At the moment we have explored into extracting the GFX, GIS files and we are looking into OpenCycleMap as a possible home for the map (thanks to a reader of the project from Italy for the suggestions).

7. What are the lessons that you have learnt from your project?

One of the important lessons learnt is to allow the project to evolve. It is hard to foresee far flung objectives when the nature of producing this project is subjective, organic, and humanistic. Some of the key aspects: we have to be prepared for more time allowance, for the project to digest, develop, mature and live beyond its intended use.

8. Would you be willing to talk to people who are interested to start a project similar to yours?

The project adopts an ‘open door policy’ for all its findings and information sharing. Every step of the project is well documented, and shared publicly online. In the 6th phase, a finished map with proposals for bicycle facilities and development will be handed over to the council and authorities. We will share the studies with local, regional, and international councils, as well as cycling groups.

The finished Bicycle Map will be produced and available to the public for ‘free’. The route information on the map is public property. We would love to grow a network of volunteers from the same area to start mapping out routes off-the-map. Hopefully they will start their own initiatives, and in the future share their findings on a digital platform. We are all open to sharing. The project is turning out to be more than just a map.

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9. Any advice that you would like to give to someone else who wants to make a difference?

Positive attitude is key. Set simple objectives. Keep an open mind but stay focused on the goals. Sometimes it’s not about making a difference, but about just being, and sharing it as it is.

For more information, check out the Cycling Kuala Lumpur group. 

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