Sunday, November 10, 2013
Saturday, October 26, 2013
The important issue though is, how much has changed since?
Well in the past year, so many things have happened in the cycling scene in Singapore and the number of announcements, news items and discussions have far outpaced my ability to keep this ten-year old blog updated!
Stakeholders have been meeting with URA and LTA, sounding out suggestions, consulting on routes and even going on bicycle rides! In a very short time, advocates for cycling as an integral part of city life have become a united group, whether in government or from the ground.
The mission? Introduce, change and improve infrastructure, culture, mindset about cycling as a way of life and be a natural evolution from modern Singapore's foundation as a garden city. Also, we need to teach a lost generation how to ride a bicycle!
Suddenly, many things seem possible. And the people involved are not idealistic, some changes we will happily see now, others we know will only happen in a very distant future - so much so one person hoped he could enjoy some of that change before dying!
Many stakeholders have been advocates for a couple of decades, from their far-seeing conviction of what could be possible in Singapore. Some have been fuelled by their experiences overseas, themselves the fruit of a long, arduous journey involving many groups.
The hurry to appreciate better cycling possibilities hit a hard wall for a long time, with arguments dismissed with the suggestion it was too sweaty to cycle to work. Many believed the dismissal, not having tried mounting a saddle to appreciate the freedom it offered, or discovered the possibilities and joy of cycling to work.
As we grew more urbanised, as foldable bikes flooded the island, as some part of the island were liberated, as we discovered safe short routes at our doorstep, and as people travelled to other cities and experienced the fruits of their efforts and thought about the sort of city we were becoming, as we yearned for ways to liberate our minds from the intensity of city living as all this and more happened, the inevitable happened. The nonsensical suggestions of the past became serious considerations and efforts behind the scenes have begun to be expressed.
At a meeting at the Urban Redevelopment Authority between staff from URA, LTA and stakeholders, some had expected an angry conversation. Instead it was simply fruitful.
Participants found themselves in a conversation with government officers who were familiar with the fundamentals. The group recognised and appreciated experienced suggestions and technical ideas. The focus was very quickly orientated towards the challenges of our inherited infrastructure, attitudes honed by our history and expectations (or lack of) and then on to practical solutions for the short and long-term.
This is the way change often takes place, gradually, over more than a decade!
And this will not be fast enough for some. And there will be growing pains.
The old debates will the resuscitated repeatedly and discussed, often without inheriting the wisdom of the past. Self-serving perspectives will surface noisily - these motorists, cyclists and even pedestrians will argue from a lack of holistic vision or sadly, just selfishness. But I am convinced from public engagements that these are NOT the views of the majority.
I have also been fortunate to experience those who have a vision of a city with considerateness for all users, and these will move the debate towards holistic solutions.
These people inspire, encourage and motivate, and they include folk from all walks of life, civil servants, motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. They give me hope for any and all of the challenges we will face in Singapore.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Fewer cars, fewer roads
By Kishore Mahbubani, for The Straits Times, 14 Sep 2013, by invitation http://www.straitstimes.com/st/print/1507520
A FEW weeks ago, on Aug 28, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the famous speech given by Martin Luther King Jr entitled "I have a dream". He said: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character."
The goal of his speech was to open the roads to advancement for his fellow black citizens. I too have a dream for my fellow Singaporeans. However, while the goal of his speech was to open the roads to advancement, my goal is to close the roads to advancement for my fellow citizens. The only difference between him and me is that while he was speaking metaphorically, I am speaking literally. We do not need many more physical roads or much more physical road space in Singapore.
One undeniable hard truth of Singapore is that we live in one of the smallest countries in the world. This is also why we have one of the most expensive land costs in the entire world. Apart from Monaco, no other United Nations member state has land as expensive as Singapore has per square foot. Hence, we should value every square foot. Every square foot we give up to road space is a square foot taken away from other valuable uses: pedestrian walkways, bike paths, green parks and so on.
To be fair to our road planners, they are caught in a bind because Singapore is continuing to grow its population of cars. If we expand the number of cars, we have no choice but to expand the amount of roads to carry more cars. So the real solution is to reduce the demand for more cars in Singapore. How do we do this?
The problem here is that a car remains an essential part of the Singapore dream. Yet, if every Singaporean achieves his or her dream, we will get a national nightmare. To prevent this national nightmare from happening, we have created harsh policies to raise prices and reduce the demand for cars.
PARADOXICALLY, the high prices of cars have made them even more desirable as status symbols. This is why luxury brands trump cheap brands in Singapore sales. If the desirability of cars keeps rising, our efforts to curtail car ownership will be as successful as a dog chasing its tail.
So what is the alternative solution? The solution is obvious: Change the Singapore dream!
Yes, almost every Singaporean reading this article will laugh out loud at this suggestion. How can any well-off Singaporean deprive himself of a car? It serves as the most reliable form of transportation as well as a powerful status symbol. The minute you own a car, especially a Mercedes-Benz, BMW or Lexus, your friends know that you have arrived.
But for 10 years of my life, I have actually lived on another even more crowded tiny island where it is not rational to own a car. In fact, it is considered downright stupid to buy and own a car if you live in Manhattan. All this came home clearly to me one evening in Manhattan when I saw the former chairman of Citibank, Mr Walter Wriston, and his wife Kathryn standing on First Avenue with their arms raised and trying to hail a cab.
Clearly, Mr Wriston was then one of the richest men on our planet. He could have easily bought a car in Manhattan. Yet, it just did not make sense.
The eco-system of public transport that Manhattan had created with a combination of subway trains, public buses and readily accessible taxis meant that in a crunch you could get anywhere in Manhattan using public transport.
More significantly, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, another clearly very rich man, used to take a subway train to work in Manhattan.
The former mayor of Colombian capital Bogota, Mr Enrique Penalosa, put it very well when he said: "A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It's where the rich use public transportation."
I have been to Bogota. When I visited it in 1992, the city was so unsafe that I was given a private bodyguard to walk down its equivalent of Orchard Road. Mr Penalosa transformed the city so much that Latino Fox News described him as "one of the world's pre- eminent minds on making modern cities more liveable."
Mr Penalosa is quoted as saying: "When we talk about car-free cities, we're not talking about some hippie dream. Not only do they exist, but they also are the most successful cities on the planet. The ones where the real estate is the most valuable, the ones that attract most tourists, the most investment, the ones that generate the most creative industries."
There was a time when Singapore's experiments in improving its urban environment would get global attention. Today, it is a man like Mr Penalosa, with bigger dreams than our dreams, who is described by Latino Fox News as a man whose "work and ideas have gained him international attention and a loyal fan base that includes New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg".
Mr Paul Steely White, executive director of New York City's Transportation Alternatives, has also said about New York City that "the way the streets of the greatest city in the world are being used is changing fundamentally… People are beginning to understand that it's entirely possible and really very desirable to lead a life without being tethered to an automobile".
We therefore have to replace the Singapore dream with the Manhattan or Bogota dream.
We have to give up this insane dream of owning a car and replace it with an ecosystem of a public transport system that makes it irrational to own a car.
AND this is probably one of Singapore's biggest failures in its first 50 years: We have failed to develop a world-class ecosystem of public transport. We do have a good public transport network, but this has not kept pace with the population's expectations, which include a more reliable MRT system with fewer breakdowns, predictable bus services, taxis available in thundery showers, and pools of electric cars for ready rental.
So why did we fail? The answers must be complex. But one fundamental error could be simple. We expected every artery of this ecosystem to be financially viable. The disastrous result of looking at each artery and not looking at the ecosystem as a whole is that while each artery made sense in isolation, the combination did not result in a good ecosystem. Even more dangerously, by looking at each unit in isolation, we did not consider its impact on the island or the nation as a whole.
Let me give a specific example from the area of expanding road space. Many Singaporeans of my generation are still puzzled that the road planners of Singapore destroyed our precious National Library on Stamford Road to build a little tunnel under Fort Canning to save two minutes of driving time. The road planners who designed this tunnel had no idea that they were effectively shooting a bullet through the soul of Singapore by destroying the National Library.
This is why we have to be fair to our road planners. The only key performance indicator (KPI) given to them is to make traffic flow smoothly. With this KPI, it is logical to build more roads or expand road space. Hence, it was perfectly natural for our road planners to announce recently that Clementi Road and the Pan-Island Expressway would be expanded. I am sure many motorists who use that stretch of road daily will approve. But when do we say that enough is enough?
This is why we need a new dream. Does this mean Singaporeans will stop driving cars?
Absolutely not. My dream is to walk out of my house, use a smart card to pick up an electric car on rent and drive it anywhere I want to. We can replace car ownership with car pools. In fact, other cities have begun trying this. In Vauban, a suburb of Freiburg, Germany, 70 per cent of residents choose to live without private cars due to excellent city planning and a car sharing system. Before you scoff at electric cars, let me tell you that electric cars have faster torque than petrol-driven cars.
In short, we can have an alternative dream for Singapore. Let us dream of an island with fewer cars and fewer roads. It will be closer to being paradise on earth. firstname.lastname@example.org The writer is dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.
Monday, May 13, 2013
"AT LEAST three people here come to an untimely end on the roads every week. Three cyclists died recently in as many days. A professor's wife lost her life under a double-decker bus. Two young brothers were killed when a cement mixer ran over them while they were cycling. They made the news; many others did not. All of the deaths were tragic. They were both needless and avoidable.
With over 965,000 vehicles and millions of pedestrians and cyclists jostling on the roads in a land-scarce city, to flout the rules, act inconsiderately or push one's luck is to court disaster. There were 327,503 traffic violations last year, many of which had the potential of causing more harm than what transpired. It is safe to assume that hundreds of thousands of other illegal and dangerous acts escaped detection. Law enforcers cannot be everywhere and, like street cameras, can pose only a deterrent effect. Saving lives will call for preventive action undertaken by all. Instead of playing a cat-and-mouse game while cutting corners to gain a dubious advantage on the roads, all road users need to take personal responsibility for the safety of not just themselves but also other road users.
Fostering such a road culture will take time but is well worth the effort as safety consciousness paired with graciousness on the streets can palpably transform the daily experience of people on the move. The Traffic Police's plan to reward deserving drivers, as part of the Safer Roads Singapore movement, can help to promote good habits. Civic groups should assist by reaching out to other road users as well - cyclists, young pedestrians, the elderly, and foreign workers (particularly those from teeming cities with hell-bent motorists).
Heavy vehicles continue to deserve more attention because their drivers, in an elevated position, have to cope with blind spots and comparatively reduced manoeuvrability. Other road users often do not make enough allowance for such limitations and take their chances. Involved in 10 fatalities in the first three months of this year, drivers of these behemoths have to be dealt with firmly when they are caught speeding.
Apart from "enforcement, engagement and education" strategies, it is prudent to also closely study "black spots" where accidents tend to occur more frequently. Road engineering, markings, signage and competing traffic flows might be hazardous in one way or another. Improving traffic management at certain busy junctions should also be considered. In the end though, the roads are only as safe as the people who use it. There is no use pointing fingers. Motorists, cyclists, pedestrians - all - must play their part."
Saturday, May 04, 2013
"SG Cyclists, the Inclusive Cycling Community" is a Facebook page run by a Mountain Biker, a Road Cyclist, a Triathlete, and a Fashion Stylist!
They are a shy bunch who ride two to three times a week, and no names for now, just judge them by what they do. I'm already recommending fb.com/SGCyclists to newbies and oldies alike.
Why? I love their humour, helpful advise, suggestions and facts. In your facebook feed, you'll be urged to get off your butt to ride, be informed about the right way to wear a helmet, careful to check your lights on a Wednesday evening ride, be alert about haze and lightning, remember our fallen cyclists and measures to be safe and ways to enjoy your ride.
These are great messages to be reminded of and share with friends you might have just nudged on to a saddle - you need not ride alone!
One morning I shared the helmet graphic with some green friends who have a tendency to point their visors to space! A helpful and effortless reminder before their next ride.
The founder of SG Cyclists almost lost a friend in a road accident. This sparked a network of like minded cyclists to spread the safe cycling message. And facebook is the medium through which information is spreading fastest these days between cyclists and other concerned individuals in Singapore.
SG Cyclists will expand their page admins to diversify content to match the cycling scene in Singapore. If they manage this, it could provide a central place for cyclists to gather online.
Just in their infancy, SG Cyclists had a fruitful conversation with Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Kheng about the fate of Tampines Bike Park. It was an example of the sort of dialogue they are willing to pursue.
A cycling-friendly Singapore has become more of a reality just from 10 years ago. We have along way to go, but this will grow with our city. We can't pass the buck to government alone, but efforts from the ground are sorely needed, such as this one.
Go one, hop over and see you at SG Cyclists, the Inclusive Cycling Community.
Another cyclist killed - worker returning to dorm in collision with bus at Jalan Boon Lay/International Road junction
"He had escaped a blaze at his workplace in the Jurong Industrial Estate four days ago, as he was out on a job.
But Malaysian Tan Kian Eang, 45, was not so lucky early yesterday morning, as his bicycle was involved in a collision with an SBS Transit bus at the junction of Jalan Boon Lay and International Road.
Paramedics from the Singapore Civil Defence Force arrived shortly after the accident at around midnight and pronounced Mr Tan dead at the scene. The Singaporean bus driver has been suspended pending police investigations.
This is the second fatality from a bus collision in less than two weeks. A 42-year-old woman died after she was hit by an SBS bus in Clementi on April 23.
According to evening daily Lianhe Wanbao, Mr Tan, who worked at Nam Hup, which supplies tents for outdoor events, was cycling back to his dormitory when the accident occurred.
He had planned to return to Malaysia over the weekend to vote.
He is survived by his wife and a seven-year-old daughter.
A colleague, Mr Friday Dayan, 30, said he had known Mr Tan for seven-and-a-half years. He said: "He was funny and like a brother to me. I'm very sad."
Nam Hup was slightly damaged in the fire on Tuesday, which destroyed three warehouses.
Ms Tammy Tan, senior vice-president of SBS Transit's corporate communications, said yesterday the company was "very sorry that this has happened" and its foremost priority would be to get in touch with Mr Tan's family to express its condolences and render what assistance it could.
She said SBS was also stepping up junction drill checks on its bus captains and would remind them of the need to always be alert.
Workers at the Jurong Industrial Estate told The Straits Times the junction is dangerous, with heavy vehicles tending to speed.
Security guard Ahmad Sata, 64, cycles to work from his home in Boon Lay. He said: "I'm very careful in this area because the heavy vehicles are very fast and sometimes don't give way."
Mr Gong Xiao Wei, 27, a mechanical engineer, added: "I was fined for cycling on the pavement before, but I don't dare to cycle on the roads. There are too many heavy vehicles here and my life is more important."
Friday, May 03, 2013
"Even at first go, it's safer then current round about."
After TWO cyclists died in London this year, stubborn TFL is now actively learning the best practices from the Netherlands to make cycling safer in London.
How many cyclists died in Singapore this year so far? What can LTA do to make it safer here?
BBC News London 30 April 2013
'Dutch roundabouts' could be seen in London next year
Roundabouts like the ones used in the Netherlands separating cars from cyclists could be used in London as early as next year, the city's cycling commissioner has said.
Trials of the layout are taking place at a research laboratory in Berkshire. The roundabouts do not conform with Department for Transport regulations as they stand. But Andrew Gilligan said if the trials continued to go well they could be seen in 2014.
'Fantastic for cyclists'
The layout gives cyclists priority and means they are in the line of sight of drivers when vehicles exit the roundabout. Campaigners have called for a number of London junctions to be changed to make them safer following cyclists' deaths.
In 2011 two cyclists died in the space of three weeks at the Bow roundabout in east London. The roundabout trial, which has been going for six weeks and will end in July, forms part of the mayor of London's Vision for Cycling. More than 600 people have been involved so far and the effects on safety and capacity will be studied. The impact on pedestrians and lorry, van and car drivers will also be monitored. Members of the public can participate in the trials.
Other ideas being tested include traffic lights with separate signals for cyclists. Mr Gilligan said: "We've got a cycling budget of £913m over 10 years and it includes £100m to refit junctions. "I'm really looking forward to seeing this [roundabout] on the road. I think it's going to be fantastic for cyclists."
Subject to the outcome of the trials, Transport for London (TfL) will work with the Department for Transport to try the roundabouts on the public highway. TfL said improvements at Bow roundabout and a 20mph speed limit at Waterloo roundabout were due to be delivered this summer as part of ongoing improvements.