Thursday, March 08, 2012

Mr Lui Tuck Yew, the Minister for Transport, on cycling, in the Singapore Parliament, 07 Mar 2012

Text of his speech concerning Cycling extracted from the Ministry of Transport's Press Centre from the Committee of Supply debate (COS2012) about the budget of individual ministries which commenced on 1 Mar 2012 [link].

Cycling National Cycling Plan and Cycling Paths

47. I will now turn to cycling. Dr Janil Puthucheary asked whether we could consider introducing on-road cycling lanes. As an alternative, Dr Puthucheary also suggested a painted visual guide on the existing left-most lane for motorists to provide a 1.5 metre clearance when passing cyclists.

48. Experience in other cities suggests that demarcating on-road cycling lanes might in fact give both cyclists and motorists a false sense of security, which can lead to an increase in accidents involving cyclists. I was a little surprised on this, because I asked LTA to run through studies that were done, look at the data. Interestingly enough, for a number of countries that have introduced this demarcation back in the 80s, they subsequently reported an increase the number of accidents. One of the reasons they alluded to was that it gave both parties a false sense of security.

49. What we are doing, under the National Cycling Plan, as our first priority, is to facilitate cycling for intra-town travel and for connectivity to major transport nodes. Weighing the various pros and cons, the provision of dedicated off-road cycling paths proves to be the safer and more land-efficient option while achieving our purpose of facilitating intra-town cycling.

50. LTA started rolling out the “Cycling Town” initiative in 2009. So far, seven towns have been identified as “Cycling Towns”. To date, 6.4km of dedicated off-road cycling paths have already been completed in these towns. By 2014, cyclists can look forward to at least 50 km of intra-town cycling paths and another 16 km in the Marina Bay area.

51. We are not stopping there. In mature estates such as East Coast and Jurong Lake, LTA is working with HDB under the Remaking Our Heartland plans to incorporate connectivity for cyclists. New HDB towns will also be planned with basic cycling infrastructure provisions. Dr Puthucheary has rightly pointed out that our extensive Park Connector Network can offer cyclists who go beyond intra-town commutes an alternative cycling network. This is indeed being looked into. LTA is working with NParks to have the cycling paths built by LTA linked up with NParks’ park connectors. This integrated approach adopted by relevant agencies has taken us from a localised “Cycling Town” initiative towards a broader National Cycling Plan, which will see an extensive cycling network islandwide being developed in the long-term. However full implementation will be some years away as the infrastructure will take time to roll out.

52. Dr Puthucheary suggested that Singapore consider bicycle sharing systems similar to several other cities. We are certainly open to the idea and will explore its feasibility and actively facilitate if there are interested private operators.

Enhancing Bicycle Parking Facilities

53. Under the National Cycling Plan, LTA aims to increase the number of bicycle parking racks at MRT stations and bus interchanges. Last year, LTA announced that it would roll out the first batch of additional bicycle parking racks at 10 MRT stations. These 1,600 additional bicycle parking racks, will be in place by this September.

54. These racks have been designed to allow cyclists to lock their bikes securely and with adequate lighting. We encourage cyclists to heed the Police’s advice to use a U-lock or one with an alarm feature to deter bicycle thieves.

55. I am glad to share that LTA has plans to install additional bicycle racks at another 10 MRT stations. About 900 additional racks are expected to be added by 2013. LTA will continue to monitor demand for bicycle parking at our transport nodes and work with agencies to secure land to provide additional racks.

Public Education and Enforcement

56. Dr Puthucheary asked whether we would consider having a single regulatory authority for cycling. I think the issue is not about having a single regulatory authority for cycling, but whether it is actually possible and desirable, at this stage of our cycling development, to have a single set of cycling regulations and plans across the entire island. While LTA provides the infrastructure such as cycling paths and bicycle racks at transport nodes, and the Traffic Police oversees the enforcement regime, community involvement is really the key success factor from what we have seen so far in the cycling towns. The community is involved in planning the cycling paths, and they are also mindful to balance the concerns of other residents by encouraging their cyclists to adopt safe cycling habits. This means that the local communities can decide how fast cycling initiatives should be rolled out and what would be acceptable practices and trade-offs between cyclists and other members of the community.

57. Dr Puthucheary also advocated the use of cycling helmets. The Traffic Police has taken the approach to promote the use of helmets through education, as mandating their use through legislation may not necessarily be that effective. Cycling interest and advocacy groups can also partner LTA and the Traffic Police to encourage the use of helmets in the cycling community.

58. Besides the promotion of the use of helmets, there are other public education efforts undertaken by LTA, the Traffic Police as well as interest groups like the Safe Cycling Task Force. One key initiative on this front is the publication of “Intra-Town Cycling” Handbook, which will serve as a reference on good cycling etiquette and share safety tips for intra-town cycling. I note that LTA and the Traffic Police have also stepped up their enforcement effort against errant cyclists with the help of the local community to make cycling a safer activity for all.

59. Our limited land space means that mutual understanding and courtesy between cyclists and other road users is all the more important. This is an on-going process. I hope that by working together as a community, through improving our infrastructure, and through our continuing efforts on education and enforcement, we can create an environment where cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists can co-exist safely.

What did Janil Putucheary ask?
"Mr. Chairman, sir,

Cycling is fast gaining popularity in Singapore. More cycling paths and facilities are being built under the $43 million dollar National Cycling Plan, cycling groups are growing in number and mass cycling events are attracting thousands of participants.

Sir, I am heartened that many more Singaporeans are taking up cycling as a sport, a leisure activity or as a mode of daily transport. Cycling has many benefits and regular cycling is known to significantly reduce the risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases. I am glad that the government is investing in resources to promote cycling. However, I feel that more that can be done.

Firstly I would like to address the issue of cycling as a form of commuting. Our roads are getting more congested and as we grow our population, at some point in the future we will have to stop increasing the number of cars. The growth in our population cannot be matched by a similar growth in the number of cars. It is unfeasible for reasons of space, congestion, and the effects on the environment. The government has correctly identified a need to encourage more people to move towards public transport. Yet, there remains a need for personal transport, and an increasing number of people are turning to cycling to fill this gap. Sometimes to get exercise, sometimes to take advantage of the flexibility it provides, and sometimes for the sheer enjoyment of it. Cycling is personal transport, there is an emotive component. Can we look ahead 20 or 25 years and see that an increase in cycling infrastructure now will not only respond to a current need, as it will frame the mindset and expectations of our society for the next generation?

Our park connector network is a fantastic initiative as it provides residents with seamless connections to different parks in Singapore. But could the network be used to address a need for utilitarian personal transport? I realize that the Park Connector network is under NParks, which is under MND, and so MOT would have a hard time looking at the routes to consider the obstacles to them becoming part of an alternative cycle commuting network. This brings me to the next point.

Cycling crosses across a number of ministries and bodies, none of whom see it as their priority. LTA, and hence MOT, looks at cycling on the roads. NParks, and hence MND, looks at the Park Connectors. SPF, and hence MHA, is responsible for the safety and enforcement issues. Sport cycling comes under the SSC and hence MCYS. URA, HDB and the Town Councils all would have a role to play in integrating cycling with other amenities, facilities and access points. For the integration with public transport LTA again gets involved together with the PTCs. Nobody wants to completely own and deal with cycling. Suggestions are usually met with a response indicating which other ministry could get involved. Whose KPI is it? Whatever the arguments of the merits of cycling, the fact is that an increasing number of people are actively engaging in cycle commuting, and this sector is not adequately overseen.

Sir, I would like to propose that we have a regulatory authority to oversee and advocate for cycling as a commuter modality, one with heft and weight. One that can take matters across ministries and stat boards to solve problems for the benefit of all, because poorly designed cycling infrastructure affects pedestrians and drivers as much as cyclists, because people will continue to cycle, and increasingly so.

There has been an assumption amongst many that Singapore is too hot and too humid to cycle in. This is clearly wrong. Look at the many “uncles” in their long pants and t-shirts that can be seen cycling with ease in Kallang, Geylang, Redhill and other areas. Look at the foreign workers who do not require high-tech lycra shorts nor expensive cycle shoes, and yet manage to commute very effectively, rarely even breaking into a sweat. Look at the number of cyclists in cities around South East Asia, cities that share our weather conditions. Look at the cyclists on our roads despite the assertion that it is not a viable mode of personal transport. It’s all a matter of expectation and conditioning.

If we accept that this is a viable modality of personal transport that will become increasingly important as car ownership becomes less accessible, I would like to ask the Minister whether MOT will subsidize or support bike-share programmes? The argument to wait for a critical mass of cyclists first is not a sound one as cities such as Barcelona and London saw an increase in the number of trips made by bicycle after the introduction of bike sharing programs that were well integrated into the transport network. The introduction of a bike sharing programme can work to offload some of the pressure that our public transport system is under.

There have been calls for cycle lanes to be established to improve the on-road safety of cyclists. In discussing this, firstly we all have to understand that cyclists are required to ride on the road as they are banned from pavements, except in established cycling towns. One argument against bicycle lanes is that we are land-scarce. It’s hard to understand how London and Manhattan, two of the most dense and congested cities in the world can effectively implement bicycle lanes to good effect, but we cannot. Yes we are a city and not a country, but the cities that have implemented bicycle lanes have not expanded outwards into their hinterlands and countrysides in order to do so, they have merely made accommodations. Will the ministry consider reexamining this idea?

However, in lieu of bicycle lanes I have an alternative suggestion. The highway code already requires that cars overtaking a bicycle do so with a 1.5m clearance to the right of the bicycle, assuming that the cyclist is in the left-most lane. Judging this clearance can be difficult. Why don’t we make it easy for drivers to comply with the existing law by painting a line down the left-most lane, 1.7m in from the kerb. This is cheap, uses no extra land, does not require any new legislation, and most importantly does not affect the flow of traffic, as there are already cyclists in that lane, and the cars currently need to overtake them. We would simply be making it easy for all concerned to do the right thing and obey the law. In the absence of cyclists, the whole lane is available for cars. One possible objection to this idea is the Bernoulli effect, which is what happens when a large vehicle passes the cyclist at high speed, causing a pressure differential that can unbalance you. This is neither more or less likely to occur with this suggestion, the cyclists are already in that space, the drivers are already overtaking them. One of the attractions of this suggestion to me, is that it emphasizes that the road, just like our island nation, is a shared space, and we all need to share it graciously. Cyclists, just like drivers, need to follow the highway code.

Finally sir, with respect to cycle safety, the data is incontrovertible, that wearing a helmet saves lives. Together with visibility and riding responsibly, wearing helmet is a key measure in ensuring the safety of cyclists. If enforcement is an issue, this would not be the only law that is difficult to enforce, I’m not aware of any driver that has been fined for failing to provide a 1.5m clearance when overtaking a cyclist. Nevertheless I do agree with the general sentiment that education is better that legislation. Will the ministry will the ministry consider measures to increase or mandate the use of bicycle helmets?
Thank you."
Source: Janil Putucheary on the Everyday Trafficfacebook page, 08 Mar 2012.

1 comment:

Back2Nature said...

I do want to believe that they study other cities' experiences to help making their decisions. However, I can't help but feel that "other cities' experience" is merely cited to justify and achieve their unsaid agenda: get bicycles off the roads.
Note: according to the existing rules, once off-road cycling paths are up, it will be illegal to ride on those stretches of road where off-road cycling paths exist.
I also want to believe that they are encouraging cycling, but so far the way I see the few changes in recent years make me believe otherwise. Cycling town = allow cyclists on walk path. Off roads cycling path for intra-town commute. Round-Island-Route. MRT/bus laid down rules to "allow" folding bikes on board during non-peak hours, where stretches of peak hours are long. etc.
All these have a common point or purpose: to move bicycles off the roads. Also, none of these changes encourages cycling as a mode of transport. I hope to see changes that promote inter-towns cycling but it just doesn't seem that is something they like to have.