Sunday, March 18, 2012

Dr Janil addresses cycling as a viable form of transport to MOT

cycling for all and a viable option of transport
Dr Janil address to committee of supply
"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." 
Taiwoon: I am not hopeful given that no MPs (other then Dr Janil and Mr Teo Ser Lerk cycles) that it would amount to anything. But I am glad Dr Janil has spoken up for cycling. Let's see if Singapore is ready to really to be world class.  What do you think and what would it take for Cycling to be considered as a viable form of transport?  I like to hear your views.

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