Contributed by reader Zing
Cycling is good exercise - low impact, works muscles, burns calories. Cycling is also good exercise because it gets your heart rate high – for the wrong reasons. If you cycle on the roads, cars ambush you at side roads, taxis stop without warning, buses squeeze you into the kerb. Nothing like a close shave to get the adrenalin pumping.
The last time I cycled down a main road, only one driver slowed down to let me go past a slip road, and even that was dangerous because I nearly took both hands off to applaud him. Nonetheless, it renewed my faith in drivers. This lasted till the next two junctions, where despite clear arm signals, I was forced onto the slip road and had to dismount at the zebra crossing. And let's not even talk about trying to filter right.
Ok I shouldn't get snarky about drivers; there's probably a comparable proportion of inconsiderate cyclists about. Those who shoot red lights, cycle on pavements, have no lights at night, lock bikes to wheelchair ramp railings — the list goes on.
The issues of cyclist safety and cycling safely have risen to prominence, particularly following the pavement-sharing trial in Tampines. There have been some encouraging measures to make Singapore more cycling-friendly:
Bike lanes in some HDB towns (averaging 10km each) and along park connectors (360km by 2020), warnings on common training routes (119 signs), folding bikes on public transport (114 x 64 x 36cm please), more parking at MRT stations (823 new spaces; check out multi-storey parking at Pasir Ris).
These are great, but cycling for transport remains a challenge if your destination isn't the nearest MRT station or the next park, and if your bike can't fold into a briefcase. Outside Tampines, HDB town lanes and park connectors, cyclists are stuck in a no man's lane - illegal on pavements, unwelcome on roads.
Each year, 8 to 10% of traffic accident fatalities are cyclists, a proportion similar to that from motorcar fatalities.1 Except that people in cars far outnumber people on bikes. Over 2007 and 2008, more than 1000 accidents involved cyclists; 44 were fatal. Hope this year turns out better.
These ugly statistical potholes reveal some underlying problems on the road to greater transport safety for all. The most glaring is a lack of regard for cyclists, in terms of infrastructure provision and the behaviour of other road users. The result is only to everyone's detriment.
The Road Traffic Act states that ´every bicycle shall be ridden close to the left hand edge of the roadway'.2 This is unhelpfully vague and only encourages territorial drivers to squeeze cyclists into the kerb. It's not funny if your pedal clips the kerb. Time to update this 55-year-old law.
But I'm not here to lecture drivers or lawyers; I can't drive. And from personal experience and anecdotal evidence, there's a heartening number of drivers who aren't cyclist mowing machines.
The point is that there is a chicken-and-egg problem with cycling for transport in Singapore. The lack of cyclists on roads does not encourage investment into cycling infrastructure. And the lack of cycling infrastructure does not encourage cyclists on roads. It is, yes, a vicious cycle.
But how do we know it's not worth spending money on more cycling infrastructure? The current number of cyclists on roads, most of whom are foreign talent of all kinds, is no indication of the latent demand for cycling. That's why I've started a survey to try measure this, at http://abetterride.wordpress.com.
I've been advised to wake up my idea - nobody would cycle in Singapore weather; sweat or rain, the wet look went out with Brylcreem you know. And drivers would never respect bike lanes, just look at bus lanes. And there's no space.
Yes there'll be a limit to how many people would cycle happily in our humidity. And yes installing bike lanes is probably more than just repainting lines on roads. In the UK at least, 1km of bike lane can cost £37,000 - that's $86,000 at deflated exchange rates.3 You see why the powers that be are stalling.
I've just stuck a spanner in my own wheel, but if I didn't do it the LTA would. Well we can't change our weather nor land area, but we can change our attitudes and behaviour. Stop squeezing cyclists to the sidelines. For one, put drivers through a simulation of cycling on roads and vice versa. Education of all road users may be painstakingly slow, but it's the best value for money.
Make the roads safer for cycling, because that's the surest way to increase cyclists. And more cyclists makes the roads safer for cycling. Start a virtuous cycle, spin a revolutionary ride. And even if only 1% of the population cycles for transport, that'd be 65,000 people by 2020. Tell me they won't be worth building more bike lanes for.
About the writer
This article was written by Zing Lim, a Master's degree student at the London School of Economics. You can help do her survey on cycling in Singapore at - http://abetterride.wordpress.com. It doesn't matter if you can't cycle or don't have a bike. Thanks very much, and get your friends on it too!
Other than that, Zing studies Environment Policy, and previously studied Geography and is due to work for the government. When not stuck on the laptop, she may be found up a mountain, talking to grandma, in the pool, playing piano, on a climbing wall, or riding the bike (not all at once). She most enjoys introducing people to the outdoors and in future, hopes to do more social work, learn to sail, keep speaking Teochew, and of course, live to see a cycling system work in Singapore.
(Mr Brown’s comments on his own photo make the point)
(Blogger Dennis Cheong took this photo from an ST article on ´dedicated bike lanes' – spot the irony!)
1 Figures from Singapore Police Force statistics for 2003 - 2008; http://www.spf.gov.sg/stats/traf2008_concern.htm, accessed 03 Aug 2009.
2 Road Traffic Act of Singapore 1955, Chapter 270, Section 140.8, as quoted by the Singapore Amateur Cycling Association cycling communiquÃ© of 22 July 2003, p.5 http://www.cycling.org.sg/Communiques/saca_communique_Laws_Applicable_to_Cyclists_in_Singapore_(22.7.03).pdf, accessed 03 Aug 2009
3 UK building costs extrapolated from "Two Wheels" by Matt Seaton (2007), 2nd ed, p.208