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Should cyclists follow all the traffic rules?

Should cyclists follow all the traffic rules?

The answer seems to be obvious, however, the German Chancellor Merkel gave an unexpected, yet inspiring answer:

“Cyclists do have their own interpretation of traffic rules. But we are not pushing hard for obeying the rules, but for better and more bike paths and as far as helmets go for cyclist, we focus on the voluntary usage and not bringing in laws for that.”

Bicycle as a mode of transport is not new, it exist way before the creation of “traffic rules”. Traffic rules were created after the introduction of motor cars, which imposed unprecedented risks to other road users. You may consider “traffic rules” are essentially “motorist’s rules” and must be obeyed by all motorists for the safety of other road users. However, it is not realistic, nor fair to require a human power mode of transport to follow 100% of the “motorist’s rules” even if it means it will sometimes put the cyclist in risk.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel checking a road bike

I’m not advocating cyclists to break the traffic rules. The fundamental principle should be safety. Do what is safe. Follow the traffic rules as much as possible. But, do not follow the rules blindly and put yourself in a dangerous position. Some of these “rules” are in fact perceived and not official. Here a few typical, but exceptional examples that bicycle users may “break the rules” for safety concern:

1) Riding on footpath – if the road is full of fast moving cars, it is potentially deadly for slow riders such as the uncles and aunties going to markets. In this case, I would be using the footpath instead. Anyone insist that cyclists must always be on the road I will challenge them to ride slowly along Lornie Road.

2) Not staying at the extreme left of the left most lane, but shifting to the centre of the lane – Before riding across a road junction, or approaching a slip road, it is often safer for the cyclist to shift his/her position from left of the lane towards the centre of the lane. This is for two purpose: a) signal to the driver behind that you want to go straight, not turning left. 2) prevent driver from last moment overtaking and cutting in front to turn left.

3) Move from left most lane to second or third lanes – before some junction with one or more left turning lanes, you need to position yourself out of the left turning lanes if you need to go straight.

4) Riding on the bus lane – it is actually legal to riding on Bus lane, but many drivers and cyclists are not aware of this and become confused. It should be possible to put a bicycle sign on Bus lane, and it will be more clear for every body that bicycle are supposed to be on the Bus Lanes.

5) Riding across zebra crossing or pedestrian crossing – again, there is no explicit law states that it is not allowed to cycle across a pedestrian crossing. But you need to do so in a safe manner, for your own safety and other pedestrian’s safety. Never rush across a crossing regardless you are cycling or running.

6) Not wearing helmet –  there is no law in Singapore states that one must wear a helmet in order to ride a bicycle. It is a personal choice.

It is particularly interesting that, such “un-ruling” comment is coming from a German Chancellor, since Germany is well know to be a rule based society. Angela Merkel clearly understand that it is not useful to force the traffic rules, which are primarily created to control motorists for the safety of others, onto the group of cyclists, which does not imposed the same level of risk to other users. Instead she put focus to improve the infrastructure such as bike paths so that everyone will be more safe regardless of the rules.

What is your view? Please put your comment below.

Source: http://www.bike-eu.com/Shows-Events/Show-reviews/2013/8/Angela-Merkel-Steals-the-Show-at-Eurobike-Opening-1347196W/

Singapore bicycle routes (Google map)

(2017-07-01) Updated link of new map:
https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=1d-f3wTmqM3jmT7C1LtTzorsRbGw&ll=1.3438646483491936%2C103.74715402722359&z=15

Quickly post this excellent work of Jonathan Hiew, who tirelessly pieces together the different cycling routes in Singapore, includes Park Connector, LTA and town council cycling routes, on road routes and unobvious routes submitted by cyclists, with notes too!

https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/view?mid=zYN7CFn96k94.k5NpSMlBEPvI

 

What does it takes to make Singapore a truly bicycle friendly city?

To Dream Big, and take the Low Hanging Fruit first

It is wonderful news that the National Cycling Plan (NCP) targets to complete 700km off-road bicycle paths by 2030. The recent announcement by PM Lee about AMK town to be the test bed for new and innovative ideas for new bicycle town is a concrete milestone as Singapore moving towards a bicycle friendly city.

However, is 700km bicycle network enough to make Singapore a real bicycle friendly city? What does it takes to make Singapore a truly bicycle friendly city?

Let’s define a bicycle friendly city as a city where you can safely and conveniently use a bicycle to go where you need to go. 400km of the 700km NCP cycling routes are Park Connectors (PCN) which are predominantly for recreational purposes. The remaining 300km are Intra-town cycling routes which are more useful for connecting major transport nodes, town centers and amenities such as food centers and markets.

Today we have over 3000km of local access roads in Singapore connecting all the places where people need to go.

300km intra-town cycling routes vs 3000km normal roads.

This means by 2030, in average, you have a 10% chance (300km/3000km) to get to where you need to go if you are using the NCP bicycle route. If in 9 out of 10 cases I am not able to use my car to get to where I need to go, I probably won’t drive. Similarly 10% access is not friendly enough for bicycle users. So what does it takes to make Singapore a truly bicycle friendly city?

The solution is in fact obvious to many regular bicycle users all over Singapore: as shown here, they use roads as well as pavements and PCNs. The only problem is that it is not safe enough and it does not give confidence to others who would like to try using a bicycle. So what can we do?

I’d suggest to dream big, yet act pragmatic and look for “low-hanging fruit” solutions.

To Dream Big:

A) Bicycles, as a transport mode, should take up at least a 30% share**.

B) Bicycles should be able to access 90%+ of places people need to go.

C) The entire bicycle network must be safe enough for your 10-year-old kid to cycle independently.

It may seems these are impossible dreams but let’s see what are the “low-hanging fruit” that is available:

Take the Low-hanging-fruit solutions: 

1) Lift the ban for cycling on pavements. This will immediately add 3000km of off-road cycleable routes to the network, since most roads in Singapore come with pavements. Simultaneously, introduce a “strict liability law” — in case of any accident between a cyclist and a pedestrian, the cyclist is always liable. Increase the fine to make sure that all cyclists take very good care of pedestrians when sharing pavements.

2) Improve road crossing and road junction design so that it is safe for your 10-year-old kid to cross independently. Without safe crossings, the “network” is not connected.


Dangerous crossing.

Safe crossing example.

These two ideas will unlock the existing potential of Singapore with minimum effort. But it is an intermediate solution because it is not ideal to have cyclists mix with pedestrians in most situations. Therefore we should improve the on-road cycling routes with the following:

3) Introduce a 30km/h speed limit for all streets within 3km from each town center.

4) Put a bicycle sign on Bus Lanes. Gradually improve the bus stop design to allow cyclist to pass through a bus stop without interfering or interference from stopping buses.

5) Repaint neighbourhood streets with excessively wide lanes to standard 3-metre lanes. Use the space left to introduce protected bicycle lanes on road.

With a pragmatic approach, we should be able to unlock the potential of (off-road) cycling as a mode of transport within a few years, and continuously improve the efficiency and safety of the (on road) cycling network at the same time.

**A mode share of 30% share for bicycles will help to increase 33% capacity of public transport as well as 16.5% of road capacity in Singapore. This will be able to justify at least 10% of LTA’s investments to improve bicycle infrastructure. How is that possible?  To make it simple, let’s say today transport mode share is 70% on public transport, 30% use cars and taxis. 25% from public transport and 5% from cars shifted to create the 30% of bicycle mode share. This means bicycle will help to relief 25/75, or one third of the loading from public transport, and at the same time 5/30, or 1/6 of loading on cars. What kind of budget will be required to make such improvement possible, even if space is not an issue? Therefore it is a no brainer to spend billions of budget to improve bicycle infrastructure. It will benefits all road users.

 

PM Lee announce Ang Mo Kio as the latest test bed for new cycling town

The Singapore National Cycling Plan get a substantial endorsement from PM Lee Hsiang Loong. At the launch of the “Clean and Green Singapore 2015” on November 8th, 2014. PM Lee was surprised by the spontaneous applause when he mentioned “Bicycle!” as an alternative mode of transport he want to encourage. He cited his experience of cycling in Copenhagen and offer Ang Mo Kio as a “test bed” for innovative bicycle infrastructure to make cycling a choice mode of everyday transport. This will be a significant milestone of the National Cycling Plan which targets to complete 700km bicycle paths by 2030.

The role of cycling as part of a bigger picture of Sustainable Singapore vision 2015 is becoming more clear now, as described in the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015:

Cycling and walking will become popular forms of getting around in our neighbourhoods and regions. …..   With a “car-lite” Singapore, we can reduce our carbon footprint, as well as enjoy fresher air, a cleaner environment and a healthier lifestyle.

Here are some concrete actions mentioned in the blueprint:

• Introduce innovative features and creative designs to towns to provide a better cycling and walking environment, starting with Ang Mo Kio

• Develop a comprehensive cycling network spanning more than 700 km by 2030, with supporting infrastructure and a code of conduct to promote safe cycling within and across towns

• Create more car-free spaces in housing estates and the city, such as the Civic District, where roads are temporarily or permanently closed for public activities

Links:

Sustainable Singapore Blueprint

Learning from London’s mistakes

Recently 5 cyclists died in London within a short period of 9 days. At the same time New York CitiBike just just completed 5 millions rides over the first 5 month without a single person killed. Consider the CitiBike is used by all sorts of people from young to elderly, including tourists, this contrastic experience between London’s deadly “Cycling Superhighway” and New York’s bicycle friendly design contains a lot to be learnt.

A short video released by The Guardian provides a close look of London’s “Cycling Superhighway”. An experienced cyclist will be able to point out a few design issues relates to cycling safety. Some say more death is expected because new bicycle facilities attracts more people to use bicycle and therefore more accidents is inevitable. I think this is purely nonsense. If that’s true, New York should report similar number of cyclist death during that 5 millions rides.

Apart from feeling sad for those families and friends of the victims, I believe there are important lessons to be learnt for professional road designers:

“Your job is directly affecting people’s life and everyday wellbeing, please consider the vulnerable road users when designing.” If New York can do it, so does other cities, just don’t repeat the mistakes made by London’s road planners.

Looking at the video, I cannot imagine the one who design this so call Cycling Superhighway will cycle on it themselves. Let’s first check out the video:

I captured screenshots of area that is showing some safety issues. I will add more comment tomorrow. Feel free to add your comments in Facebook here:

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Fig. 1

Fig. 1 Wide and straight, does this looks like a road you can drive fast? 
Painting half a car lane and call it a bicycle superhighway, this design suggests bicycle is to mix with high speed traffic ..

 

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Fig. 2

Fig. 2 Driver abuse the bike lane by parking there, exactly as some people mentioned the reason not to have bike lane… but it doesn’t have to be like this. In New York, the parked cars are used to provide a safety barrier between cyclist and fast moving traffic. 

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Fig. 3

Fig. 3  The “Bike super highway stop abruptly, not transitition space to prepare the dirvers and cyclists to slow down when they have to directly mix on the road. Extremely dangerous, by design. 

 

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Fig. 4

Fig. 4 Here an example of a fast van just over took the cyclist (who took this video) very closely because the driver is forced to share half a lane with the bicycle.

 

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Fig. 5

Fig. 5 Finally a segregated section of the BSHW, it only allows one bicycle at a time and the separation from big lorry is way too little. Pathetic, but at least it is relatively safe compare to other parts.

 

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Fig. 6

Fig. 6 The separation suddenly stop!!?? What are you supposed to do here, the cyclist is right at the blind spot position of turning long vehicles.

 

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Fig. 7

Fig. 7 The yellow lorry on the right can easily eat into the “invisible” BSHW and kill a moving cyclists there, and the driver will say, honestly, “I didn’t see him!” another example of “likely accident caused by road design”

 

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Fig. 8

Fig. 8 The BSHW reappear again

 

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Fig. 9

Fig. 9 The BSHW suddenly end right before a junction. What are the cyclists supposed to do here?

 

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Fig. 10

Fig. 10 Let’s mix with the traffic again..

 

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Fig. 11

Fig. 11 Dangerous crossing , by road design (or the lack of it!)

 

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Fig. 12

Fig. 12 Now this is a proper bike lane, wide enough and with good separation when there is fast moving traffic.

 

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Fig. 13

Fig. 13 The end of the better part of the BSHW

Below is how my friend Calvin Boo describe his experience of riding in London last year:

Having heard about and seen the painted cycle lanes and advanced stop boxes of London, I thought London was cycle-friendly until I tried riding on the city roads one evening … and nearly got knocked off the bike twice on a short 25mins ride (once by a car, once by a bus).

Personally, the poor cyclist safety in London is not just a question of infrastructure, although it stems from infrastructure. The road culture in London is, to sum up in one word, aggresive; aggresive drivers, aggresive cyclists. Aggressive attitudes from both sides does not serve anyone well. 

On London roads, I see cyclists riding at speed along the roads, not alone, not in twos, not in threes … but in hordes. And this at peak hours of the day. I haven’t been to Amsterdam, but from the many videos I have seen, my feel is that the road culture is different.