Thursday, June 17, 2010

"The road to a cycling city"

The road to a cycling city - image
"The road to a cycling city," by Cassandra Chew. The Straits Times, 16 Jun 2010. Govt should take a firm stand as pedestrians and motorists alike do not welcome cyclists
"I WAS in a bicycle store one weekend when I noticed a bumper sticker by the cashier counter.
"Watch For Cyclists", the striped black-and-yellow sign read. As I picked it up, the shopkeeper urged me to take one. Her eyes were heavy. It was the weekend when news of the death of experienced cyclist Evelyn Toh, 39, broke. She had been hit by a van.

'At least the newspapers reported the accident,' the shopkeeper sighed. 'They didn't use to.' It was a brief conversation, but she said plenty with just those few words.

To her, society has little regard for cyclists. And it is easy to see why.

Cyclists here are almost like the red-headed stepchildren of the road, without a place to call their own. By law, cyclists are to ride on the road - except in Tampines, where cycling on pavements is allowed.

Yet, many motorists are unwilling to share the roads with them. Ask any cyclist and he will readily share an incident or two, or three, when he had a near brush with death, no thanks to a motorist who drove with a bad attitude.

Naturally, some cyclists opt for the relative safety of the pavement. But as it turns out, pedestrians are equally, if not more, territorial than motorists. I would be hard-pressed to find a pedestrian who does not find cyclists a menace on the walkways.

So where do cyclists belong?

It's a question that needs to be answered quickly as this island copes with a burgeoning two-wheeler population. The longer it is sidestepped, the longer the vulnerable cyclist on the roads will have to ride on, exposed to hazards from careless motorists, deprived of the rights of safety they are entitled to.

If the answer is that cyclists are 'legitimate road users (who) deserve to be able to ride safely', as Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, said recently, then the status quo is not going to cut it.

Like cycling advocate Irene Ng, a Tampines GRC MP, I feel the Government plays a key role in establishing cyclists' right to be on the roads. Although millions are being invested in infrastructure for leisure cycling and short commutes, more can be done to integrate cycling as a mode of transport here, she argues.

And there are good reasons to do so.

Cycling is a good form of exercise. It is cheaper than travelling by car. It is also a faster means of travel than being stuck in a car if there is a traffic jam. Cycling produces less pollution than cars. Cycling infrastructure costs less to build than that for other vehicles.

But here is a reason that will interest every road user, not just than the health- and environmentally-conscious.
Cycling as an additional form of transport can help ease traffic congestion, a problem that can cost businesses billions of dollars.

That was the projection by the business community in Melbourne, Australia, in the early part of this decade, which led their mayor at the time, Dr John So, to be serious about encouraging cycling. Like many cycling cities in the world, Melbourne used bicycle lanes. Then, Dr So added bike rental stations and parking facilities equipped with showers and cafes.

Over in the Swedish city of Malmo, Mr Ilmar Reepalu, the mayor, says the idea is to make cycling attractive. So besides offering useful maps, the city wooed commuters by getting local celebrities on board. Mr Reepalu put them on bicycles, sent them round the city and published their favourite experiences in a book.

In Melbourne, Dr So also rounded up people in the community to get everyone on the same page. 'Companies can organise cycle-to- work days and cycling carnivals on weekends to get motorists to become recreational cyclists,' he suggests. From his experience, motorists will be more open to sharing the roads if they knew what it was like out there for cyclists.

Both city planners, who will be in Singapore in two weeks' time for the World Cities Summit, displayed strong political will to make cycling safe. And soon, the community came alongside to partner them in their efforts.

Today, bicycles make up 40 per cent of all journeys to and from work in Malmo, and 9 per cent of peak hour commuter traffic in Melbourne.

The Government here can spark a similar transformation if it establishes the legitimacy of cyclists here and promotes the humble bicycle as a means of transport.

If there is not enough room on existing roads for bicycle lanes, then how about shared lanes where cyclists have priority?

Motorists can be re-educated on the hows and whys of giving way to cyclists. Driving instructors, on their part, can help teach learner drivers the appropriate way of co-existing with cyclists on the roads.

More bicycle parking spaces can be erected near MRT stations and town malls. If outdoor bicycle parking facilities are unsafe, what about mandating, as New York City has, that new buildings have secure indoor parking for bicycles?

On the other hand, it will also be necessary to look into the list of bugbears that motorists have about cyclists.
After all, we can't expect motorists to share the roads if cyclists continue to flout traffic rules and get away with it.

If we have moved away from the practice of licensing bicycles, then what about a compulsory road safety test before cyclists are allowed on the roads?

And to help alter motorists' view of cyclists as parasitical road users who don't contribute to the upkeep of roads, perhaps we can consider charging cyclists a nominal fee if their bikes are above a certain size. Call it a bike tax.

There are solutions if we are willing to find them. The question is: Are we committed to doing so?

Cyclists, for their part, can abide by the rules.

But until the Government takes a firm stand on where they belong, motorists will have an excuse to see cyclists as road hazards who don't pay road tax, and not as living, breathing people who matter too.


casschew@sph.com.sg

7 comments:

Chu Wa said...

Honestly, I am very pleased to see this article came up yesterday in the PRIME NEWS section of Straits Times- a signal that cycling is becoming a mainstream discussion for the interests of general public.

Nick said...

So I bought a Trek 2.1 today in hopes of getting into road cycling, not so much of the racing as much as it is more of commuting and having the ability to stop to take pictures (photography).
I come from Canada and was an avid competitor in downhill mountain biking and so this is a big change for me.
My only experience on cycling in Singapore so far is the way from the store to where I am currently staying and I found myself having little room on the road and further more, I felt cars were intentionally giving me little breathing room, in fact I had a couple cab drivers honking at me as they passed and so I had to stick to the pedestrian but some parts of the pedestrian aren't very well made for road bikes.
In Vancouver, we have many avid road cyclists and I do notice the increase in bicycle lanes especially since the Winter Olympics 2010. Frankly speaking, I am wondering if my decision of investing into a road bicycle here was a bad choice seeing as I do not know where to start nor where would be appropriate to cycle.

Back2Nature said...

Recently a friend asked why didn't I get a road bike. The reason is our roads are not accommodating to road bike, as yet. Thus, a MTB is preferred.

I enjoy reading the article. I very much agree with her on bringing up others have realized the benefits of cycling and successfully facilitated cycling.

I also agree that there are solutions if we are willing to find them. However, I hope we find them instead of inventing them as I believe many cities have similar problems and tested solutions for us to adapt. Thus, I disagree with charging cyclists a nominal fee to please the motorists. Furthermore, the nominal fee could be so negligible that it is not feasible to do so (http://back2nature.blogspot.com/2010/05/road-tax-and-bicycle.html)

Nevertheless, compulsory tests might be something we need. I suggest instead of compulsory, how about big difference in punishment and/or insurance cover in the case of accidents.

Anonymous said...

I am very pleased to read this article about cycling on Singapore - I'm an avid cyclist but having brushed death a few times on the roads in Singapore, I often opt for a walk or run to get to my destination - I've cycled in different parts of the world and have to say that Singapore is among the least accommodating towards cyclists - my company has a policy on cycle to work which unfortunately I prefer not to take part in while in Singapore given the danger of cycling here.
Hope that the government will implement measures to make the city for cycling-friendly and motorists in general will be more accepting of cyclists

Long said...

Well, yesterday a driver honked at me, cut into my lane abruptly (while staring at me), wind down the window to give me a profane sign and stick his head out of the window to hurl hokkien abuses at me while I'm behind him. This happened the whole time he was driving.

What can I say about cycling in Singapore?

Kong Ping said...

By the term 'cycling city' are we encouraging cycling as a form of exercise or as a means of commuting?

I don't think it is far fetched to assume that a person who cycle commutes in Singapore would also be able to reach his destination via public transport and a bit of walking (and the latter also carries as strong a ‘green and healthy’ cred as cycling).

The arguments for cycling – easing congestion / pro-environment / healthy – are equally addressed if you take public transport and walk a little.

I am an avid cyclist myself, but objectively, five adults transported by a car utilizes road space much more efficiently than an equivalent number of cyclists. Yes, we want our space, but let’s put more thought in our arguments.

And labeling pedestrians as territorial – Let’s not lose the little goodwill we have left with these guys yah…

Anonymous said...

Actually drivers in Singapore have nothing against cyclist, they just have everything against anything that is on the road, be it a cyclist, motorcyclist, other motorist or pedestrian. Just 2 days ago, I was side brushed by a taxi while walking along a minor road where there was no pavement. I nearly lost my balance and fall backwards.

Law enforcers book cyclist riding on pavement instead of booking motorists that's speeding on the roads day in, day out. If not for traffic lights along the main road near where I stay, I am sure it will have ended up as an expressway. 2 church goers have already been recall back to the MAKER while crossing this road and all that was done to prevent future cases was to erect a barrier to stop jaywalkers. How about a speed camera?

I had cycled to work a couple of times and its was really enjoyable, not to mention its a good form of exercise but after a few close encounters, I have to give up.

Honestly, motorists are a blessed lot here in Singapore. For such a small piece of land, we have miles and miles of road, big ones and small ones leading motorists right to their destinations, to every corner of the country. But again, they are the cash cows of the nation.