Archive for October, 2007

Novice Cyclists on Ubin

Every time I’ve gone cycling in Pulau Ubin I’ve been appalled at the way people cycle there. Alright, it’s understandable if novice cyclists are nervous about raising their seat to the appropriate height, but that’s not a huge safety hazard. A bigger hazard is their not bothering to, or not being able to, cycle in a straight line. But the biggest hazard is their ignorance of safe braking techniques. I witnessed two spills today that occurred because of poor braking technique.

The first occurred on the big descent on the dirt trail that leads out of Chek Jawa. I’d overtaken this girl, who like most novice cyclists had a seat too low and so on and hence was unable to make it up the hill without getting off to push her bike, on the ascent. At the short flattish portion on top I slowed down to change my gears back from the granny gear, and took the steep descent with a strong application of both brakes, not because I was afraid of going faster on that section of the slope, but because I knew that if I didn’t go slow now I’d be going really fast near the bottom, and I didn’t want to deal with the attendant dangers of braking suddenly at high speeds. To my surprise, the girl I’d overtaken on the ascent overtook me on the descent. “How brave”, I thought. It was a rather long slope with a turn so I saw nothing more of her until I was nearing the bottom. There was a fallen bicycle with a still body next to it. So I didn’t actually see how she fell, but I guessed it was due to poor braking, given her high initial speed. It was unlikely to fall badly any other way, given that there wasn’t enough gravel to cause you to skid if you weren’t braking, and there weren’t any obstacles on the trail.

The second accident I witnessed occurred shortly thereafter. This time I saw the whole trajectory and even thought to myself “she’s going to skid” a few seconds before she did skid. It was raining, the tarmac was slick, and a bunch of teenagers were approaching a bend in the road at high speed, going downhill. The girl basically did not attempt to slow down until she hit the bend, at which point she slammed on the brakes. The back wheel skidded, she panicked and applied more pressure to the brakes, upon which the front wheel locked and she flew over her handlebars.

Both these accidents could have resulted in far more serious injuries than were actually suffered. I don’t really have any ideas how the situation can be improved. I think there are already some volunteers who do bike orientation courses on Ubin (Pedal Ubin?), but given the sheer volume of people who were there today, I doubt it’s feasible to attempt to educate every novice on how to brake. Besides, many who would not consider themselves novices (think ‘macho’ teenage boys who think they’re fantastic daring adventurers) would probably not bother with any ‘trainings’ offered.

One of Those Days

Truly, falling because you decided to lean to the left when stopping while your left foot was still in the toe clip is one of the most idiotic ways in which to fall. Thank fuck the bus you fell against was stationary. And thank fuck you fell against a bus and not against some car snob’s shiny car. You now have some road rash on your right ankle (how did that happen in a fall on your left side??) and a mother of a bruise on your left knee, which took your weight. The fall shattered your confidence and for the rest of the commute home you had to consciously think about coordinating your stopping movements: which side to lean to if you were keeping your right foot in the clip, etc. It was one of those commutes where it seemed like every driver was out to kill you (and no, most commutes are not like that). You were glad to roll to a stop in front of your gate.

Portsdown Rd is a nice ride but Queensway is a bitch. And don’t get me started on the Thomson/Bishan/Braddell mess.

Free Parking Isn’t Free

Excerpts from this Salon article:

To Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at UCLA, parking requirements are a bane of the country. “Parking requirements create great harm: they subsidize cars, distort transportation choices, warp urban form, increase housing costs, burden low income households, debase urban design, damage the economy, and degrade the environment,” he writes in his book, “The High Cost of Free Parking.”

Americans don’t object, because they aren’t aware of the myriad costs of parking, which remain hidden. In large part, it’s business owners, including commercial and residential landlords, who pay to provide parking places. They then pass on those costs to us in slightly higher prices for rent and every hamburger sold.

“Parking appears free because its cost is widely dispersed in slightly higher prices for everything else,” explains Shoup. “Because we buy and use cars without thinking about the cost of parking, we congest traffic, waste fuel, and pollute the air more than we would if we each paid for our own parking. Everyone parks free at everyone else’s expense, and we all enjoy our free parking, but our cars are choking our cities.”

[…]

The environmental impacts of all this parking go way beyond paving paradise. The impervious surfaces of parking lots accumulate pollutants, according to Bernie Engel, a professor of agricultural engineering at Purdue. Along with dust and dirt, heavy metals in the air like mercury, copper and lead settle onto the lots’ surfaces in a process called dry deposition. These particles come from all kinds of diffuse sources, such as industry smokestacks, automobiles and even home gas water heaters.

“If they were naturally settling on a tree or grass, they would wash off those and into the soil, and the soil would hold them in place, so they wouldn’t get into the local stream, lake or river,” Engel says.

But when the same substances settle on parking lots, rain washes them into streams, lakes and rivers. Engel calculates that the Tippecanoe land used for parking creates 1,000 times the heavy-metal runoff that it would if used for agriculture. Because the surface of the lots doesn’t absorb water, it also creates 25 times the water runoff that agricultural land would, which can increase erosion in local waterways.

Parking lots also contribute to the “urban heat island effect.” The steel, concrete and blacktops of buildings, roads and parking lots absorb solar heat during the day, making urban areas typically 2 to 5 degrees hotter than the surrounding countryside. “This is most apparent at nighttime, when the surrounding area is cooler, and the urban area starts radiating all this heat from the urban structures,” explains Dev Niyogi, an assistant professor at Purdue, who is the Indiana state climatologist.

The urban heat island effect can be so dramatic that it changes the weather. One Indianapolis study found that thunderstorms that reach the city often split in two, going around it, and merging again into one storm after the urban area. “The urban heat island is not simply a temperature issue. It could affect our water availability,” says Niyogi.

All right, there’s not much free parking in Singapore (which is a good thing), but whereever there is, you can see people ‘paying’ for it by wasting time and stressing themselves out hovering around the free parking spaces like vultures.

I’ve written about the aforementioned urban heat island effect many, many times on this blog. People say they don’t want to cycle or walk because it’s too hot here. But it would not be so hot here if these same people weren’t driving (and hence creating demand for roads and parking lots, contributing to the urban heat island effect). So as long as these people continue insisting on heat as a reason not to cycle, it’ll get hotter and hotter. And more people will use heat as an excuse to take private motorized transportation. So it goes.

Cycling in the Bus Bays

Twice on my morning commute today, I had to wait behind buses that were in turn waiting behind cyclists who had veered into the bus bay. I don’t understand why people do this. You hold the bus up more by veering into the bus bay instead of going straight along the outer edge of the bus bay. I suppose people are afraid of cycling away from the kerb. But I don’t see how it’s any ‘safer’ to be cycling next to the kerb in the bus bay with the bus still breathing down your neck.

Some old walker/jogger clapped me when I was going down Thomson Road. I was too winded to greet him but tried to give him a friendly nod.

I was earlier than usual but the traffic along Holland Road seemed heavier than usual. Strange. I couldn’t filter safely to the right to get to North Buona Vista Road so had to make two pedestrian crossings. Oh well. At least this time I managed to avoid the invisible bump that always gives me a painful kick to the crotch going up the hill to my workplace. It’s a rather abrupt bump but you can see it only if you look carefully from the side, because the tarmac over the bump happens to be coloured such that it looks perfectly flat. I’d always been mystified by how that smooth-looking stretch of road could have such a bump. It was only today, when I deliberately cycled in the middle of the road instead of the left edge, that I could see where the bump was.