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Friday, 24 May 2013

Bicycles will be here to stay

The humble bicycle was invented 200 years ago. The modern automobile was invented in 1885, 70 years later. By 1960, Singapore had 268,000 bicycles and 63,000 cars and 19,000 motorbikes (quoted from The Evolution of cycling in Singapore by Koh Puay Ping and Wong Yiik Diew) . In the 1970s, bicycle usage started to decline as both car and motorbike ownership shot up. Walking, cycling and public transport became second class compared to private cars. Soon cycling tracks were removed to make way for roads. By 1981, the Government stopped registering bicycles altogether.

Sales of bicycles enjoyed double digit growth in the past 5 years. If we take into consideration including bicycles owned by foreign workers, it is conceivable there is at least half a million bicycles island wide. As part of the National Cycling Plan, 7 HDB selected towns will enjoy a network of 50 km intra-town off-road cycling paths. Such short-trips may include cycling to the market, school, bus exchange or cycling the first mile to catch the MRT.

When it comes to cycling between towns or into CBD, the challenge of off-road paths, tracks is more daunting in space constraint SG. Thanks to NParks years of building park connector networks, strategically positioned here and there, the opportunity to link these existing 210 km of PCN into our heartland cycling paths is happening. It is projected that Park Connector Network will be extended to cover 360 km by 2020 (Designing our city: planning for a sustainable SG by URA). The “icing on the cake” includes a 150 km round-island-route. We have not even discussed developing the North-South Rail Corridor of over 25 km of contiguous distance. So, yes there is no turning back as bicycles will be here to stay.    
Cyclists in Singapore continue to be a sandwiched class; between motorists and pedestrians. Pedestrians want cyclists to be on the roads, not pavements, and motorists want cyclists “out of their way”. The common gripe of most motorists (having to pay road-tax and high COE) is that cyclists don’t belong because they pay next to nothing! Hence this tension continues unabated, exacerbated each time there is near miss or an accident involving motorists and bicycles.

Likewise, when a cyclist pedals on pavement, he risks chastised by pedestrians who think they owned all walk ways. In addition, cyclists may be fined for a “traffic violation” cycling on pavements although the authority always applies a “light touch” implementation on this matter. Increasingly, more towns are reforming to be more cycling friendly, be it on dedicated cycling paths or shared paths in the form of park connectors introduced through NParks.   

The reality on the ground is as follows (again by Koh Puay Ping and Wong Yiik Diew)

* So there is hope still that pavements can be shared without being territorial as is the case for most park connectors. 

In this urban jungle, temper flares especially when user exhibits bad behaviour. Extracted from STOMP

What then is a cyclist in Singapore and should he/she be a perennial rub on the other users, be it on road or pavement? Hopefully, you will understand we need to co-exist as bicycles will feature more in the years to come.

Cyclists come in many forms. As a photo is worth a thousand works, I will show you that cyclists are ordinary people trying to get from point A to point B safely in the most time efficient manner. And yes, some depend on this humble invention for work purpose.

Here, I must qualify that I am not referring to those “men or women in spandex”, typically week end warriors, charged on high octane on a cardio work out. The law of physics exempts no one and the faster they go, the higher their risk. I will also exclude some (minority) uncouth, including foreign workers, who have absolutely no regard for other users; be it motorists or pedestrians.  

Clearly on our roads, the most vulnerable include motorcyclists and cyclists. Speed kills and last year alone, there were 169 road deaths. The more vulnerable cyclists suffered average of 18 deaths over three years as was reported in parliament in Sep12. I have not come across any documented fatalities of pedestrians/cyclists combination on pavements, other than some reported bruises, falls or shouting contests.

So how do we stack against other cosmopolitan cities including New York and London? At 18 cyclist deaths, we fare poorly. 

If we use London as another comparison, 18 cyclist deaths are equally appalling. 

If you refer to Straits Times 16 May, 2013 B1 by Christopher Tan, our Traffic Police issued 83,735 summons in first quarter of 2013 for traffic violation, up from 68,176 for same quarter last year. Speeding alone accounted for 64,628 tickets, up from 46,654 last year; an astronomical 38% jump. This first quarter of 2013, we clocked 54 road deaths, compared to 49 last year. At this rate, we will revisit the dark ages of over 200 road deaths per year and a 28% increase in fatality rate over 2012!

The extrapolated fatality number of cyclists is correspondingly grim. First quarter saw 5 cyclist deaths (including 2 young boys) and 1 hit-and-run case. The latest victim was an expat roadie who dashed into a stationary lorry along Changi coastal road. He was dead right whilst the lorry awfully wrong. We claim to be first world, but our behaviour makes misery out of hundreds of related parties from these unfortunate victims.

So please remember, spare a thought before you step hard on your gas pedal. That split moment of madness can only bring grief to the slow and vulnerable. What are we to do? Whatever? Bicycles will be here to stay. Enjoy the photos.

* Here’s a mum cycling outside Wheelock place with a child, probably after kindergarten class. She is sensible, cycling on pavement and waiting for light to turn green.

* Here is a worker, picking up litter. He has got all his tools loaded on his bicycle. 

* Here is another worker pedalling his “cargo bike” collecting litter in the city, 
along Singapore river. 

* A lady I see quite often in my neighbourhood, cycling to work. She is waiting to cross traffic lights. 

* Husband and wife team, waiting for air; not gas. 

* Dad coaching the next generation cyclist.

* A mum cycling home after dropping kid at school.

* Photo of a cyclist at -25 degree C in Harbin, China. 

* Elderly man probably on his way home after his kopi fix at nearby market.

* Multi-modal commute to address both the first and last miles. No real estate needed at both ends of train stations. 
Extracted from Tern.

* Err..that’s my foldie and stomach on our local MRT. It was a good emission-free day, 42 train stops, 24 km of first and last miles, 3 errands and lots of Vit D. 


  1. Thank you for this "heads up" commentary. The comparative statistics on cycling deaths are quite startling although any death on the road is one death too many. I believe that the emphasis in SG on a Vehicle First policy instead of a Safety First policy to ensure traffic flow has led to this unacceptable state where you do not even feel safe crossing at designated pedestrian crossings with the "green man" as vehicles are allowed to concurrently cross the same crossing.

  2. So, motorised vehicles have taken over our roads for just a few decades and its non-sustainable is surfacing/clear. Bicycles might be more than stay :)

  3. If I may draw your attention to page 18 (Safer Streets) Cycling Vision London, March 2013, the statistics in London showed Heavy Goods Vehicles contribute 53% of cyclist deaths. Traffic junctions account for 75% of remaining 47% cyclist deaths. Hence effective percentage is 35% leaving behind OTHERS at 12%.

    If we assume the same percentages against local scene and work towards fixing HGVs and traffic junctions, our local cyclist deaths should come down to 12% of 18. This works out to be 2 cyclists. In other words, we are 16 cycling deaths too many in a year! Of course, zero is best.

    As Commander of Traffic Police, Cheang Keng Keong rightly pointed out: “While we will die from old age or may succumb to illnesses, we should not be dying on the roads due to traffic accidents.”

    Information - Traffic Statistics (1st Feb 2013)