Friday, February 18, 2005

10th Parliamentary debates 2003 - "Integrating cycle paths into traffic system"

Parliamentary debates 2003 - "Integrating cycle paths into traffic system"

10th Parliamentary Debates Singapore. Official Report, Volume 76 No. 22, 16th October 2003. Oral Answers to Questions: 12. Integrating cycle paths into traffic system

Ms Irene Ng Phek Hoong asked the Minister for Transport, in view of the rising number of cyclists involved in traffic accidents and of Singaporeans taking up cycling, will his Ministry study how developed countries such as Holland and Germany have brought down bicycle accidents drastically by integrating cycle paths into the traffic system in a coordinated network for both leisure cyclists and commuters.

The Minister of State for Transport (Dr Balaji Sadasivan) (for the Minister for Transport): Mr Speaker, Sir, in land scarce Singapore, our limited road space should be used for the efficient movement of people and goods. Because of this, we have only set aside dedicated road space for bus lanes and, that too, only for certain hours of the day and at certain locations. Bus lanes are justified because buses carry many more people than other vehicles. It would not be cost-effective nor physically feasible, in view of our limited land, to set aside dedicated road space for other vehicles, including bicycles.

Although we do not have the luxury of providing dedicated bicycle paths, as in Holland and Germany, we continue to study others' experiences and explore measures that help to enhance the safety of our road users, including cyclists.

Members may wish to note that the number of injuries involving cyclists has remained stable in recent years. Nonetheless, both Traffic Police and LTA will continue to take measures to reduce such incidents. These include the use of traffic calming measures, such as speed humps, education of road users, and enforcement of traffic rules.

Recently, a national road safety workshop was also conducted, with the participation of many concerned parties, to brainstorm new ideas that can further improve the safety of cyclists, amongst other vulnerable road users. These ideas include enhanced regulations on bicycles and cyclists, new traffic rules and more public education.

Public education is particularly important, as both cyclists and motorists play a crucial part in preventing road accidents. The ideas are being studied by the relevant authorities.

Ms Irene Ng Phek Hoong: Sir, that Singapore is land scarce is a given. The question is: how do we help, in terms of physical infrastructure, roads and space, to reduce the number of cyclists dying on the roads? Just in the first half of this year, 11 cyclists died, compared to five in the same period last year. This is a high number that we should not tolerate. If it means building a few more lanes to schools or markets, why do we not invest in them?

Dr Balaji Sadasivan: Mr Speaker, Sir, in countries like Germany and Holland, they do build such special lanes. I have been to Germany and Holland. In Amsterdam, they have special bicycle lanes and cyclists rule the road. The sight of cyclists ruling the road and motorists being given a lower priority is most appealing.

For one thing, it is environmentally friendly. Cyclists only release carbon dioxide. There is no carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide and particulate matter that combustion engines release. The puffing and wheezing of cyclists and the sound of swirling bicycle wheels is less jarring on the ears than the raw motorcycles and motorcars.

Cycling is also a good form of exercise. By cycling to work, you accomplish two goals at the same time. You can get your exercise and get to work at the same time.

But the reality is, in Singapore, land is scarce. Less than 1% of Singaporeans use the bicycle for regular travel. Our land is limited. If we designate special bicycle lanes for the less than 1% of travellers for the use of bicycles, it would be at the expense of either existing road lanes or pedestrian ways. If we convert one road lane in our roads for cyclists, it means that 99% of Singaporeans who use buses, cars or motorcycles may be tied up in a gridlock of traffic jams.

If we convert pedestrian ways to cycle lanes, then our pedestrians would have nowhere to walk and would be in danger of being knocked down by bicycles.

Even if we have special bicycle lanes, how many Singaporeans will cycle to work or the market? Our weather is different from the temperate climate which is present in Germany and Holland. Cycle for five minutes in the hot and humid afternoon and you will be soaked in sweat. If you do not shower at your destination, you will smell of stale sweat for the rest of the day. And, of course, ladies will have to redo their face because their make-up will come off.

Sir, cycling is still for Germany and Holland, but for Singapore, it is not practical.

Ms Irene Ng Phek Hoong: Sir, I feel that the Minister of State might have painted a too simplistic picture and also in giving a trade-off that we need not have to make, that is, a trade-off between cyclists ruling the road and not even having space for pedestrians to walk. I think we can meet the demands of the different groups without sacrificing the principle that we have to use our land wisely.

I think the seriousness of the problem might not have sunk down to the Minister of State.

Mr Speaker: What is your question, Ms Ng?

Ms Irene Ng Phek Hoong: I would invite the Minister of State to Tampines where we can see many housewives bringing their children to school on bicycles. I would ask the Minister of State to seriously consider doing a survey, going down to the ground, to schools, wet markets and MRT tracks, and see how commuters have been using the roads, and on how to make the roads safer for the cyclists who are trying to save money by not taking buses because transport costs are going up. So they are taking up cycling.

There is also a bigger group of people who are keen to cycle. I would urge the Minister of State to take
this seriously and to please help the cyclists to negotiate on the road without risks to their lives.

Dr Balaji Sadasivan: Mr Speaker, Sir, we take the safety of cyclists seriously. Earlier this month, on 2nd and 3rd October, a major conference was held, ie, the Asian Development Bank's ASEAN Road Safety Programme. Experts and various stakeholders on road safety were at this meeting. A lot of brainstorming was done about ideas that can reduce the number of fatalities on the road. We are considering these ideas and the
various authorities are looking at them.

Mr Sin Boon Ann: Sir, I thought the earlier question asked by my colleague was: how does the Ministry intend to reduce the number of cycle deaths because, in the same comparable period, the number of fatalities has actually gone up? Can the Minister of State give an indication of the steps that the Ministry is contemplating in this regard?

Dr Balaji Sadasivan: Overall, the fatalities on our roads per capita are lower than most developed countries like the United States, and it has come down, as compared to about 10 years ago. Among the ideas that were generated were more stricter rules on cyclists and more education for cyclists and other road users.

Mr Steve Chia Kiah Hong: Mr Speaker, Sir, would the Minister of State consider a trial bicycle lane in the MP's constituency to see how good is the demand for bicycle lanes? That may solve the problem.

Dr Balaji Sadasivan: If there is a Member of Parliament who requests for bicycle lanes in his constituency, we will study that.

Ms Irene Ng Phek Hoong: Sir, the Minister of State has mentioned the number of fatalities, saying that it has not changed much. But I would ask the Minister to look at another figure, which I would think is more telling, and that is the number of cyclists involved in traffic accidents.

From 1998, it was 266 but it rose to 363 last year. It is a drastic rise and whether one dies or not, it is a matter of luck. But the question is how to reduce the number of cyclists involved in accidents. We should be looking at the number of cyclists involved in traffic accidents.

Dr Balaji Sadasivan: I agree with the Member that cyclists are a risk group. Once upon a time, motorcyclists were a major risk group and the use of safety helmets has greatly reduced the number of deaths. We need to consider what else we can do to reduce the number of fatalities amongst cyclists.

Mr Speaker: I think we have "cycled" far enough. Your next question, Ms Irene Ng.

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