Monday, February 09, 2009

"Safer cycling for everyone" - The New Paper, 09 Feb 2009

"Safer cycling for everyone," by Joyce Lim. The New Paper, 09 Feb 2009.
IN 2007, there were 551 accidents involving cyclists and 22 died as a result.

Last year was hardly any different with about half the number of accidents and deaths recorded in the first six months.

From those figures, we can derive that cyclists here are a vulnerable group of road users.

A slight brush with a car can cause them to lose momentum, stumble and even prove to be fatal.

Yet cyclists who ride on footpaths can be fined.

Just how can we make Singapore roads a safe haven for cyclists, considering the growth in the number of cyclists?

Of course, it would be ideal to have lanes specially allocated to cyclists on public roads.

But how feasible is that in land-scarce Singapore?

'Providing dedicated bicycle lanes on public roads would not be an optimal use of our limited road space,' a Land Transport Authority (LTA) spokesman told The New Paper.

'We already have dedicated lanes on our roads for buses which provide an efficient form of mass transportation.

'Under the traffic rules, cyclists are allowed to share and use bus lanes.'

Cyclists are also required to keep close to the left-hand edge of the roads so as not to obstruct vehicles moving at a faster speed.

Very often we see how our poor cyclists try to keep their balance and pedal in between the two yellow lines.

More space

'So why not expand that space by another 50cm?' asked Cor-Henk Roolvink, 44, vice-president of Safe Cycling Task Force (SCTF).

'Maybe not every road, but wider roads that are popular among cyclists?

'If there are three lanes and the speed limit is 60kmh, can we not reduce the width of each lane by a few centimetres to include a 50cm lane for cyclists? That way, buses will not have to drive in and out of their lanes to avoid hitting the cyclists. Isn't that better for the road flow too?'

SCTF, which was formed by a group of volunteers in 2005, lobbies for policy and infrastructure changes in Singapore to ensure that the roads are kept safe for cyclists, without compromising functional use.

The task force has managed to convince LTA of the rising popularity of cycling among Singaporeans and LTA has since installed 119 road signs warning motorists of the presence of cyclists along popular cycling routes in the eastern, central and western parts of Singapore.

Besides our limited infrastructure, SCTF's president, Steven Lim, feels that Singapore also lacks a more detailed code of conduct for cyclists.

Since 2007, SCTF has been trying to come up with a code of conduct for cyclists.

Said Lim, 41: 'We study the rules in other countries like the United Kingdom and draft our own highway code for cyclists. Once ready, we will try to get the Traffic Police to sanction it.'

There are still plenty of road situations that are unclear - like how some left lanes allow vehicles to go straight or turn left. If a cyclist wants to go straight and a car wants to turn left, who has the right of way?

'In such a situation, the cyclist should put out his or her hand to signal that he or she is going straight and the motorist should give way to the cyclist,' replied Lim.

And for that ideal situation to happen, our cyclists and motorists need to be educated.

Last year, the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) spearheaded an initiative to publish a safe cycling guide with input from SCTF, the Singapore Amateur Cycling Association (SACA) and the Traffic Police. A SSC spokesperson told The New Paper that they are planning to complete the book next month.


Victor Yew, president of SACA which is the national sports association for cycling, said: 'Right now, Singapore does not have a cycling culture. There are still people who don't wear helmets when they cycle on the roads.

'I have been cycling for more than 20 years. To me, when I ride, I need a helmet. When I travel to Europe, Australia and New Zealand, I see cyclists with helmets. Even if it is a short ride to the market, all the cyclists put on helmets.'

Asked if we should make it compulsory for all cyclists to wear helmets here, Yew, 42 replied: 'Enforcement is a bit harsh to me. Education can prove to be effective too.'

'Not only do we need to educate cyclists on proper road conduct but also we need to educate motorists to acknowledge cyclists as road users and have more patience with cyclists,' added Yew, who is one of the founders of cycling interest group Eat Cycle Eat and a partner of Boon Bike Supply on Changi Road.

He recalled a recent cycling trip to Germany where he was impressed by the patience shown by the other road users.

Yew was cycling with two friends on a single-lane, two-way road and a bus came up from behind him.

Instead of sounding the horn, the bus driver waited patiently for the on-coming traffic to be cleared before overtaking Yew and his friends.

If only our motorists can exercise as much patience with cyclists here.

Of course, cyclists too need to take basic precautions like putting on proper cycling gear and exercise proper road conduct such as using hand signals to warn other road users behind them.

Between 2005 and 2007, an average of 450 summonses per year had been issued to cyclists found flouting traffic rules.

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