No space for bike lane? Really?

Article by Francis Chu, Director of ISUDA BIKE SHARE and Co-founder of LovecyclingSG

I’m not trying to do the job of road engineer, but cycling on Singapore roads allows me to see opportunities which are not so obvious through the windscreen or from the pavement. I am genuinely curious if there is indeed no space left to make way for safer cycling in our neighborhood.

left, original. Right shifted double yellow lines, rest unchanged

The picture is taken from Geylang East Avenue 2, a small street near my neighbourhood, surrounded by housing estates. Although nearby there are industrial blocks but there are hardly any “heavy industry” there. Most of the vehicle parked there are private cars or small vans. This is quite typical in many area in Singapore. Old industrial space being phased out to make rooms for the increasing housing demands. The need for wide roads for big lorries is also replaced by the need of the residents, most walk, cycle or drive in the area.

The road in the picture is 5.1 meters wide, 4.5 meters for the car lane and 60cm for the double yellow lines. From what I’ve observed in many other area, in residential area, 2.8 meter is sufficient for cars. Drivers tends to speed when the lane is too wide. So wide lanes makes the road more dangerous for non-motorist users. As a cyclist, I see potential to redraw the double yellow line to allow some space for the cyclist, at the same time it will help to moderate the car speed. After all, there are kids and elderlies, mothers with baby prams or shopping trolley. Cyclists, be it old or young, need to share the same stretch of road too. Car should never be driving fast in such area, may be a speed limit of 30km/h is appropriate. At slower speed, driving within a narrower lane is not an issue at all.

The picture on the left is the current situation, a wide lane, fast car and the cyclist has no space but have to ride just on the double yellow lane. As you can see, more than half of the yellow line space is blocked by drainage grills which can be slippery or even trap the bicycle wheels. On the right is the exact same road, nothing change but the double yellow lines shifted 60 cm further away from the curb. As a designer, I know the design of environment shape behaviour. The cyclist is now within a space that drivers normally won’t go in. So he is more relax and more confident to ride in a stable way. A frighten cyclist is unpredictable and which is more stressful for the driver too (if the drive has a heart not to hurt anyone). The sense of a narrower lane suggest to the drivers: “Drive carefully!” making it safer for all; motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians.

So when people say there is no space on Singapore roads for bike lane, I will ask, have you go down and check?
I did, in fact three of us did: Teh Ching, AhSun and I. We took a measurement tape and visited different places to measure the roads. We found a lot more opportunities in different parts of Singapore. We plot them on a google map and you can take a look too:

Tips: all the non-artery roads with lanes more than 2.8 meter have potential to be narrow down to moderate car speed and to provide some extra space for cyclist.

More: lane width project

Media update: The New Paper: 2012-08-28

There are roads wide enough for cycle lanes

Media update: Straits Times: 2012-01-23

Straits Times 2012-01-23, Cyclist start drive to get more road space

17 thoughts on “No space for bike lane? Really?

  1. John Poh

    1.5 M bicycle lanes can provide safty and space for cyclists, this can also to prevent cyclists occupied the vehicle lanes.
    with narrower road for vehicle can prevent drivers for speeding and over taking.
    Can our related Autorities do some things ASAP, to prevent more life lose and injury on our roads !

  2. francis

    Hi John, thanks for your comment. If the space is not enough for 1.5 M, anything more than the current 60 cm from the curb (40cm drainage grill) will be appreciated.
    I am interested in low cost, high impact ideas. This is one of them. I will be posting more in the coming days.

  3. Ray

    I don’t that’s the point. There are many areas where it is not possible. Take Lornie Road as an example. And if cyclists want their own lane, will they be agreeable to paying road tax too? Someone has to fund the road widening in areas where u can’t just tag on a cycling lane. The solution is education and reasonable behaviour and proper riding and driving attitudes from both camps. There are irresponsible cyclists too. When a cyclist dies, driver inevitably get demonised.

  4. Kane Chew

    Mr Chu,

    I think extending the double yellow lanes is a viable idea to be considered.

    However, I would like to raise a point that might be more fundamental.

    First off, like you and many others, I am an avid cyclist myself. I have rode on and off road in Singapore, as well as in Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, China, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Iran, France and Germany. So I have interacted with a fair share of road users all over the world, including cows and animals. You would not be surprised when I say that of all the countries where I cycled, I felt the most vulnerable on the road in Singapore. Like many others, I have also a close shave with death when I almost got knocked down by a car which did not bother to stop at a T-junction.

    But I digress. What is the fundamental reason why so many fellow cyclists die on the road each year? It is the lack of respect. A fair number of motorists in Singapore do not respect cyclists on the road. Why is that so? I myself have a class 3 and 2B license, and have drove and rode on the road. We have seen it all. We see cyclists who do not wear helmet on the road. We see cyclists who circumvent red lights(those who have done it before would know what I mean). We see cyclists without front and back lights. We see cyclists transform into pesdestrian and back to a cyclist. I am guilty of all the above. No wonder motorists do not respect us.

    Why is that so? Because a cyclist is not a “legal” road user in Singapore. We are not registered nor licensed. We do not need to pass a cycling test. We do not get demerit points for beating a red light. Everyone comes up with his or her rules or code of conduct on the road.

    To improve the safety of cyclists on the roads, we need to regulate cyclists who cycle on the roads. Every cyclist needs to be licensed if we want to cycle on the roads. We need to be regulated by the same set of traffic rules that govern current road users. This means that we are also protected by the same laws. Only then can the cycling community earn the respect of motorists, and only then can we cycle safely on the roads. Because that is where we belong too.

    But the question is, are we prepared for that?

    Thank you.

    1. William Seah

      I’m glad that a cyclist, an avid cyclist and one with considerable experience like yourself, spoke on the main issue. I’m a driver, and not a cyclist. I try my best to avoid cyclist. I recognise that cyclists have a right to the roads. But too many cyclists, from professionals all the way to the ones with a rudimentary idea of what a bicycle is, ignore basic road rules. As a result, it creates too much uncertainty.

      Yes to your idea of regulating cyclists more. Yes to the idea that cyclists need to obey traffic rules, given full rights (and hence full responsibilities) on the road. In NZ, cyclists are fine regularly for ignoring road rules, including signalling.

  5. Living Green in Singapore

    It’s interesting to see the same arguments playing out here as in the UK. At least there there is the rebuttal for when drivers say cyclists don’t pay road tax. Road tax hasn’t existed there for years. Vehicles are taxed according to their CO2 emissions and as such bicycles are zero emission vehicles and are therefore tax exempt. In the Netherlands the fault automatically lies with the driver in an accident, not the cyclist.

    There’s hope for cyclists in Singapore if the will is there to look outside for good practice!

  6. Joanne Scanlon

    Your friend has died. What lessons have you all cyclists learn?
    What is the common thing you see among all the dead cyclists?
    They all wear helmet and safety gears. Very arrogant cyclists. Period.
    Have you seen any dead Indian or China foreign worker cyclist who has died through similar accident. No. These cyclists know how to cycle safely. They ride in single file and give way to faster moving vehicles. They dont wear helmet or safety gears but they have a good attitude to ride safely. They are not stupid to avoid the fast moving vehicles. They are not stupid to avoid cycling on dark areas where there are speeding and heavy vehicles. They avoid cycling at 6.50am.

    When such accidents, the arrogant cyclists demand more to be done. Have they given a thought to the lorry driver who is making a decent living to make ends meet.

    Have you seen those ang mo cycle on lane 1 or lane 2 because they don’t want to cycle in single file with Indian workers?

    I think Singapore want less of such arrogant cyclists.

    1. Ray

      Really Joanne? Are you just trolling or are you seriously suggesting that the solution is to do away with “arrogant cyclists”?! You sound like you would volunteer to run them over yourself.

      Whether a cyclist is on the road at 6:50am or pm, the roads are for everyone. The lorry driver earning his keep is in no way kept from doing his job if he needs to pay attention to others on the road.

      The driving habits of those who can or cannot afford to wear a helmet are not not the heart of the matter. Lone cyclists – who by definition were cycling single file – have been killed on the roads by lone drivers who had the whole of the road to avoid them. Cyclist are not killed because they have flashy bikes and are cutting off poor drivers.

      What is arrogant is the refusal to drive safely and respect the lives of everyone on the roads, whether they are on a bike, a motorcycle or another car that is not as expensive as yours. It’s just pure selfish greed – and arrogance – to suggest that bikes should stay off my Grandfather Road.

  7. Francis

    Joanne, I’m not the “arrogant” type cyclist you imagine. I don’t normally wear a helmet. I learn how to be safe from the experienced riders. We are a diverse group of cyclists but we share the same concern – roads are not safe and we want to see how can we help to improve the situation. While the lorry driver has a living to make and have a family to feed, same is for the victim. No one will risk their life to prove a point, this is just not logical, and I hope your comment can be more sensitive to the feeling of the victim’s families and friends, they are in pain. Imagine this happen to your family member, or friends, how will you feel?
    The operator of the heavier, more dangerous vehicle must carry a higher responsibility for the safety of the other road users, be it small car, motorcycle or cyclist. Because they have the power to kill.
    But blaming who’s right or wrong is too late and meaningless for those who is suffering. We want to reduce such incident from happening again. That why we put forward a few proposal which we belief can help. Many of us drive too. We are sensitive to the need of drivers, so we try to find area that can contribute safety to all road users. Not easy but this particular one seems to fit the bill.

  8. Ivan

    Hi Francis, good job in showing that there is indeed space to cycle on the road. Question is, did you also notice how wide a berth the car gave the cyclist? What it shows is that drivers do give way to cyclists. With that in mind, my question is that, how will this narrow cycling lane help any further? Also, what about cyclists who like to cycle 2 abreast or bunched up in a group? Would that narrow cycling lane suffice?

  9. francis

    Hi Ivan, for a considerate driver, they will give such a wide passing distance. For driver who are less sensitive to the vulnerability of cyclist they may pass very close without realizing how dangerous is to the cyclist. Most driver use the double yellow line as a guide and in this case automatically ensure a certain distance is kept.
    It should be less stressful both for the driver and the cyclist.
    Cycle 2 abreast is allowed in the traffic rule but obviously won’t fit into this narrow space. The situation is same as today, if there is no car behind, cycle two abreast is ok. But if there is car behind it is good manner not to hold up the cars and change to single file and inside the space between double yellow line and the curb.
    This idea is useful for slow riders usually going the nearby area. It is not intended for high speed sport cycling. Because at high speed, the roadies need a bigger margin from the curb.

  10. cyc

    Hi Francis,

    First of all, i will like to express my deepest condolences to Mr Freddy Koo’s family and friends.

    Just my 2 cents worth, while im always deeply saddened by any lost of lifes due to traffic accidents, i don’t quite understand why the cycling community has to be up in arms whenever a fellow cyclist pass away due to a traffic accident and request that the government isolate the cycling community and do alot more just to protect them.
    i do feel that the government has done enough as seen from the report at
    fatal accident rates have fallen and speeding tickets has increased by almost 10%(evidence that the government is stepping up on their efforts??)

    Personally, despite what u said in your entry above, i do not feel that introducing a 1.5m cycling lane is feasible in a small country like Singapore, and while i agree that having a pilot project on some roads is a good idea, but will the cycling community accept the results of the project if it is unfavourable or will it just be another opportunity to attack the government? And in a way, having a bicycle lane will open up another can of worms.

    One thing i do not understand is, why do the cyclists prefer to cycle on the road if its for recreational purposes? The government built or is building 300km of park connectors (another piece of evidence that the government is doing their part??), will it be a better idea to cycle on them instead?

    And where do we draw the line? Motorcyclists have a much higher accident fatality rate, so going along your train of thought and in all fairness, should we have a lane dedicated to them as well?

    Im going out on a limb by saying this, but its weird to me that almost every cyclist involved in a fatal accident is a safe cyclist etc. What if the cyclist himself is the cause of the accident? is it not possible that the cyclist make a bad judgement despite being a safe cyclist? I find it unfair to demonise drivers who knock down cyclists which brings me to my next point.

    Francis, u replied above that it is ok to cycle 2 abreast, but wouldn’t it be safer to cycle in single file at all times good manners or not? I mean, if as a cyclist, your vehicle is the smallest and slowest on the road, learn to ride safely by not leaving anything to chance, cyclists need to take extra caution. Its like, i taught my kid, even if its the Green Man, she will still need to look out for incoming cars if any, what’s the point of being right if you lose your life or become paralysed? the one who suffer the most is yourself or your family.

    Mr Kane Chew brought up some points which i agree with as well, and interestingly you have yet to reply to him.
    Was speaking to a friend of mine, and she jokingly suggested that if the government is really serious about protecting cyclists, just ban them from the road. Extreme yes, but definitely the most effective 🙂

    As harsh as it might sound, I would think that the cyclists are to be responsible for themselves if they choose to take a bigger risk and cycle on the road, just like all other road users. Accidents can and will happen, as with all vehicles.

    1. george

      I agree with your points. Singapore roads are not built with the cyclists in mind for the obvious reason that cyclists form a tiny percentage of road users. 1.5 metres of road space is a lot of scarce real estate on this island and certainly unjustified by the actual bicycle ‘traffic’ on the road.

      I have over 40 years of driving experience and I am an occasional recreational cyclist -mostly at the ECP. Whenever, I see a cyclist or group of cyclists on the road, I get rather nervous for the simple reason that it is impossible to anticipate what they would do the next moment. The problem perhaps lie in a cyclist mobility – a rider can switch lane, swerve left or right in a blink of an eye.

      Furthermore that law that demands a motorist to give a certain width of space to a cyclist is virtually impossible to practise in a real situation on the road for the above reasons. What if a cyclist rides up beside you and this often happened when traffic is slow but fast enough to cause injury as cyclists are a very exposed lot. To be fair, had such a cyclist not broken the law by not maintaining the space or distance he/she between the two? Whose fault is it?

    2. Francis

      Hi cyc, thanks for your sensible comments. I agree that cyclist should also learn how to ride “defensively” to increase their own safety. I don’t normally feel comfortable riding two abreast unless it is in empty roads. But according to the traffic rule this is allowed. I believe riding two abreast is more appropriate for is a group of fast cyclist (roadies). This arrangement takes up less length and position them as if a slow car (35~45km).
      For everyday commuting (15~30km) this would not be appropriate and causes too much congestion for the cars following behind.
      I agree with Kane Chew comments largely. Cyclist do need to learn a safe behaviour on the road.
      My thinking goes, if the infrastructure is such that it is easy and obvious for road user to adapt a safe behaviour, then the education can be relatively simple. The current infrastructure has not been design with bicycle in mind. There are still a lot of experienced cyclists use the road without problem, but it is extremely hard and challenging for anyone new. Because with the lack of safe infrastructure, one has to learn a lot more in order to behave safely.

  11. Ivan

    Hi Francis,

    Thank you for replying to my post. Firstly, I do enjoy cycling. I have both a road and a MTB. I even used to have a Trek 7000 but due to family reasons, I drive more than I cycle nowadays.

    Firstly, I do agree with you that more needs to be done to protect cyclists but I sincerely doubt a painted line on the road is even effective.

    However, as with cyc, the only reason I am writing is because as your photo shows, many motorists already give space for cyclists on the road. Yet, it is very outraging that every time there is an accident involving a cyclists, the entire cycling community gets up in arms and says that motorists are at fault. Before that, just do a search on stomp and you can see many instances of cyclists disobeying rules and riding extremely recklessly. Further more, look at how arrogant the replies from representatives of the cycling community when someone posts evidence of bad cycling on the net.

    Please understand, I am not disputing a cyclist right to be on the road. I am however wondering if it is really as effective as you say that by painting a line on the road, it would protect cyclist as unfortunately, I feel that many of the accidents are probably due to reckless cycling because being a driver, I had many such near misses myself with cyclists cycling on the right of my vehicle in car parks, on 2 way small lanes, cyclists cycling in the middle of a dual carriage way, cyclists trying to make right turns at traffic lights, etc

    Even if it is a responsible cyclist, the space only makes the driver a little more aware about this group of people. It would not help if a driver were to lose control of the car or if he suddenly veered to avoid something else.

    The only thing that a cycling lane would probably do is to instil a false sense of security and enhance a mentality of the right to use the roads which I feel is a prevalent among road cyclists seeing the way they cycle.

    What I feel needs to be done rather is that we need to discourage dangerous cycling behaviour and encourage defensive cycling to ALL groups of cyclists. What I mean by this is that we need to have a standard code of conduct especially for ALL groups of cyclists so that motorists understand how they will behave in various situations and can take the appropriate measures.

    Why I target specifically on education for cyclist is very simple. For a first, because at present, there is NONE.

    Secondly, please understand, road cycling as a form of long distance commute or weekend distance trips is a very recent phenomenon. Go back 5 years, you hardly have road cyclists like we see now because road bikes are not affordable to most. Yet, motorists have been trained in driving schools and taught the highway code for decades. In it, we learn to give way to pedestrians at crossings, faster vehicles, vehicles going straight and vehicles on the main road.

    Motorists have been conditioned to behave in a certain way by the training and lessons they went through as well as the experience gain as they drive over the years. Motorists understand a fair code of conduct on the road. Yet, out of the blue in the recent years, you have an increasing community that barges in and DEMAND for space and rights. Suddenly, you are trying to tell me that it is the slower vehicle that we need to give way to even if I have the right of way. That I need to watch out and give way for the cyclist who zip across the zebra crossing from no where without slowing down to watch for traffic. Watch out for a cyclist who should have NO reason or LEGAL RIGHT to be on the 1st lane of the road or even to the right of my vehicle. Watch out for the cyclist who just dismounts from the pavement as he pleases and start to ride on the road. Please tell me as a motorist, what am I supposed to do? How would a cycling lane help me to avoid getting into an accident in any of the above cases?

    The cycling community keeps asking for purpose built infrastructure but yet the PCN is available and you pooh poohed saying that you cycle too fast and are a danger to other users. Why don’t you cycle slower since that’s what you are effectively asking motorists to do. Also, not every part of the PCN is heavily utilized. There is a long stretch of road near carpark E all the way to the airport which is hardly used. Why not used those for speed? PCN is going to be built from the East to the North. I doubt our elderly folks will have the fortitude to walk from pasir ris to punggol. Maybe you should consider identifying such stretches instead of the roads.

    Anyway, just to add what I feel cyclists should do if they insist on riding on the road and exposing themselves to danger.

    1) Please start by following all the rules. Don’t just apply the ones that you like eg, riding 2 abreast. There are others like give way to faster vehicles.

    2) Always keep to the extreme left of the road and cycle at a constant pace on the road. Constantly watch for vehicles and give way to them. Don’t insist or expect others to give way to you. If they do, good for them but if they don’t, your life is preserved. Always think of your own safety first.

    3) Learn to give way. Know that when coming out of a small lane or filter lane, vehicles going straight have the right of way. Do not just suddenly shoot out even if you are turning left and assume that drivers can see you.

    4) Do not road hog. You are right in that they do not take up much space on the road so why cycle in the middle then? Also, remember, you are required by the same law to give way. Furthermore, you are entitled by law to cycle 2 abreast but by cycling 2 abreast, you are effectively taking up an entire lane because vehicles still have to give you space when over taking. So by cycling 2 abreast, again you are just road hogging and does not earn you any credits or respect.

    5) Learn to give signals. If you are able to give signals, motorists at least know where you intend to go and can take appropriate action cos if we are both travelling in the same direction, I am not going to expect you to suddenly change direction or maybe try to cross the road by using the zebra crossing. Signalling will definitely help

    6) Do not weave through traffic and definitely. I know it is a pain to have to wait for traffic to move but when the traffic moves, you are caught in the middle of nowhere and will have to filter dangerously back to the left.

    7) Always use the pedestrian crossings when trying to get to the other side or even when making a right turn. Don’t attempt to turn right with vehicles. However, please don’t suddenly turn to use zebra crossings at filter roads. Motorists cannot anticipate that and may just run into you.

    8) Always watch for vehicles even at pedestrian crossings. Do not ASSUME that people will give way. To be honest, at times, it is not that we do not want to give way but we may not notice you because you could be a blind spot especially if you come shooting out from no where.

    9) Equip your bicycle with the appropriate lights so that you are more visible

    10) Never attempt to overtake a vehicle on the right unless absolutely sure that the vehicle is not going to move off. Again, I may not be able to see you as you could be in a blind spot. A bicycle is a silent vehicle. I won’t even know if you are beside my car. If possible, equip your bicycle with a loud horn and use it to alert the driver that you are going to cycle pass him.

    11) Please learn to obey basic traffic rules too. I know some cyclists try to move off early at traffic lights to get up to speed but know that if a car tries to beat the red light, right or wrong, you are dead.

    I hope this helps

  12. Francis

    Hi Ivan, Thanks for sharing your list of good suggestions for safe cycling. I do agree with all of them.
    Regarding the remark “as your photo shows, many motorists already give space for cyclists on the road. ” This is not so true, during the photo session I witness some driver overtaking cyclist with very close proximity. I think some of the driver simply did not see the cyclist. They may be concentrating on something else (a phone call, for example). having the double yellow lines (no an official bike lane) further away from the curb helps to guide the driver to driver with a safer distance from a potential two wheeler on his left. It is part of natural response to drive and not touching the double yellow lines. The intention is to guide most driver to adopt a safer behaviour without any education or law enforcement burden. more reference:

    1. Ivan

      Hi Francis,

      Thank you for your reply. I am glad that you agree with my suggestions and I hope you can share this further with your community and hopefully we can all use the roads safely if we have a common understanding.

      Anyway, regarding cycling on the road, be it the request for the cycling lane or redrawing of the double yellow lines, there are essentially 2 reasons why I do not feel that they are a feasible or practical idea.

      1) If safety is a concern as many has clamoured, the cycling lanes or double yellow lines affords no protection against the driver who fell asleep at the wheel or the one who can’t control the car. The first may not be a frequent event but the second I believe is quite common. Not every driver is able to handle the car well and keep to his own lane. Honestly, a physical barrier is a more reasonable request if safety is a concern.

      2) Even if in the event there is a cycling lane or expanding of the double yellow line. You have to take into consideration traffic planning. It sounds all good if the road is straight without any turn offs or junction but how would we handle cars and bicycles on the same road in such a situation assuming that the car wants to make a left turn and the cyclist is going straight? What about at a traffic junction? Who gets right of way, etc. Basically, it will require major change to the commuting rules to all segments of road users. Would that require drivers to relearn the highway code? How would the experience of fast cyclists be with this infrastructure changes?

      Just some questions for your consideration.

Comments are closed.