Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The cyclist vs motorist debate..... why is the LTA silent?

Yesterday's ST carried a surprising and gracious letter from a Mr Damian Evans....apologizing for some bad behaviour as a cyclist. Surprising because apologizing is not something we have come to expect in Singapore society.

Today's ST then followed with a letter from a motorist who was responsible for the incident.

It was an interesting exchange of views, which highlighted one thing for me. Neither was out to cause grief. Yet their encounter on the road resulted in a potential for conflict....or worse, for physical danger to one of them.

A major reason for this I belief is the lack of clarity of what is expected of cyclists' behaviour on the roads. Motorists are generally confused by signals being sent about how cyclists should cycle..... or not cycle. I know cyclist s who firmly believe that when they are on the roads they should cycle in the middle of the left most lane. They believe that this increases their profile and reduces their risk of being forced to the kerb or being hit by a car. To me this is foolhardiness, but this is what they believe. If cycling in a group, I have heard of cyclists being told by their group leaders that they should cycle abreast for the same reason.

Yet this is blatant violation of the law, which is explicit in forbidding cyclists from cycling abreast.

In all this time, the Traffic Police and LTA have been pitifully and disappointingly silent. Should they not come out and say clearly what is allowed and what is not? What is allowable and what not? Why are they so coy about this?

Clarity preempts conflict.... and hopefully will prevent unnecessary accidents.

When they do break their silence, they should also be explicit about what stretches of roads are out of bounds to cyclists....e.g. expressways, semi-expressways, overhead passes etc.


Anonymous said...

Uhh... traffic law is already explicit in banning cyclists from expressways. I don't know what you mean by "semi-expressways", but expressways are the only roads that cyclists are explicitly banned from.

As for position in the lane, the usual advice is to keep at least 3 feet from the curb, so that there is room to manoeuvre around debris that often collects by the roadside. Depending on the lane width this may or may not be the 'middle' of the lane. Groups may take the lane for greater visibility especially if they're going round a corner where the motorists coming up from behind may not have time to react if they were to keep a less obvious visual profile. Approaching intersections where there is a left turn filter and the cyclist wants to go straight, it is also necessary to take the lane so as to avoid being 'squeezed' into the left turn by motorists who cut in from the right. This is standard advice given by cycling bodies throughout the world, not just the idiosyncratic opinions of a few cyclists. Most cycling groups tend to cycle only in periods of low-traffic, like early in the morning, so I doubt that they are a significant cause of traffic congestion.

But yes, in most cities with a more mature cycling culture and a more robust civil society, there are organisations that represent the cycling community, who work with the police and city authorities to build up public awareness of cyclists. This is so far missing in Singapore. So most people, like you, remain unaware of basic safety manoeuvres that cyclists have to make.

gigamole said...

Stretches of roads such as the West Coast Highway are classified as "semi-expressways". These are also roads that cyclists often 'attack'. They are particularly dangerous roads for cyclists as traffic is heavy and fast with traffic circles which have no traffic lights. The law is somewhat ambiguous here.

I think it is fine that cycling groups around the world have advice for cyclists, but these must be tempered by local conditions. Furthermore, a consensus position must also be made known to motorists. It's nice to say cyclists should cycle 3 feet from the curb, but this really makes it difficult for vehicles on the left lane to pass the cyclists. Cyclists need to remember they are 'speeding' at 25km/hr as compared to the slowest motorist going in that lane at 50km/hr. You have to give motorists some way to pass you.

It is true that cyclists are mostly out in periods of low traffic. The conflicts and accidents are most likely to occur when the tail end of the cycling period coincide with the rise in motorist traffic. This is also most likely to occur during weekends when this overlap period is greatest.