Archive for June, 2008

John Pucher on Transport Policy

Choice quotes from this lecture by John Pucher:

For every hour that you spend cycling, you are adding more than one hour to your expected healthy lifespan, while for every hour they sit in their cars, they are subtracting from their expected healthy lifespan.


The average Canadian works for two months financing their car. Two months, you are enslaved to your car. But not me. I’m car free.

(Now just think about that. Cars are much cheaper in Canada than in Singapore. How much extra time does the average car-owning Singaporean work per year to finance his/her car?)

There’s lots, lots more in that video. But if you are one of those car addicts who thinks driving a private car is a sacred “Singaporean Dream“, then you’re just not going to accept that the healthier, more socially responsible, and cheaper option is the better one. One of the points Pucher emphasises throughout is that a successful pro-cycling policy requires traffic calming measures. Now just try to imagine the outcry from supporters of the above “Singaporean Dream” at any mention of narrowing roads or deliberately putting islands in the middle of roads to slow motorists down. We worked so hard to buy a car, and now you’re telling us we can’t race through the streets? That’s it, we’re voting for the opposition!


Most Creative Use of the Phrase ‘Public Space’, Ever

From a certain Khoo Chun Yok, in the ST Forum:

Why are void decks so, er, void?

HDB void decks strike me as under-used spaces.
Is this due to:

  • Fire hazard?
  • Insufficient human traffic?
  • Lack of air-conditioning?
  • Our collective love of blank walls?
  • HDB restrictions on commercial use?
  • Our national obsession with shopping centres?
  • Need to have space for the occasional wedding or funeral?
  • Need to let second-storey residents enjoy a little peace and quiet?

Whatever the reasons, it is a great pity that so much public space should be left void, empty. A cafe would be nice. Or perhaps a bookstore. A newsstand, perhaps.

If rent is low – and why shouldn’t it be, the space is empty anyway – these small businesses could survive, and give us an alternative to shopping centres.

Public spaces need to be occupied, for them to belong to the public.

I am sorry, but a newsstand, a bookstore or a cafe is not space that belongs to the public. The owners of such establishments can dictate what kind of behaviour is allowed in their premises, who is allowed to enter their premises, what times the premises are available to the public, and so on. In fact, such places are commonly known as pseudo-public spaces:

…pseudo-public spaces include Malls, theme parks, and sports stadiums. A pseudo-public space resembles a public space with its diversity of people. But Malls, stadiums, and theme parks are privatized spaces that are “sanitized” of certain elements. Attempts to control free speech in public spaces pale in comparison to the success of pseudo-public spaces in controlling speech. For example, most Malls prohibit leafleting or making speeches. Mall security guards routinely remove homeless people as well as anyone wearing what they deem to be gang colors. As a private space, Malls can control speech and looks. They can “sanitize” their environment. And they can prohibit activities that do not lead to their raison d’etre — consuming commodities.

Well, it seems that the only notion of ‘useful’ public space Khoo Chun Yok has is that which forwards the goal of consuming commodities.

One More Step to Marginalisation

You know, I still haven’t come across a single plausible explanation for why our enlightened urban planners think that Singapore can turn out to be the only city in the world where cycling is both a major mode of transport and mainly done on sidewalks. Because, as I have remarked before, the global pattern is that the most bike-friendly cities are the ones where there are the most cyclists on the roads, not on or rubbing shoulders with sidewalks. And no wonder, too: sidewalks have higher accident rates for cyclists. Note further that this is without taking into account the fact that accidents on sidewalks are already underreported relative to accidents on roads.

Ah, yes. The one more step. Sembawang and Woodlands are going the way of Tampines. The justification for it is shitty:

Surveys have indicated that both cyclists and pedestrians there seemed generally in favour of the idea of sharing the footpaths in order to get cyclists off the busy roads.

The initiative in Sembawang and Woodlands was the result of feedback from residents, who wanted to minimise accidents and conflict between cyclists and pedestrians.

Sorry to be an elitist, but most casual cyclists and pedestrians don’t know shit about transportation and urban planning research. The mistaken perceptions these residents have are worthless in the light of the myriad studies showing a higher risk of accidents on off-road paths (if the studies in my sidewalk cycling post are not enough for you, check out this long list of references).

I have a sneaking feeling (and I’m not the only one who thinks this) that this is part of a creeping phenomenon of driving cyclists off the roads. After all, even if they do not officially ban cyclists from the roads, how many more drivers in Sembawang and Woodlands are going to look at the new ‘cycling paths’ and think, when they next see a cyclist on the road, that that cyclist is not supposed to be there? Plenty of drivers already think that way. The last thing we need is official encouragement for the idea that cyclists do not belong on the roads. The large number of triathletes in Singapore may mean that cyclists won’t be outright banned from the roads, but you just need an increase in driver misbehavior to drive more of us off the road. And it’s hardly implausible that drivers will tend to get more tetchy when they perceive something that does not ‘belong’ on the road as obstructing their movements.

Potentially Misleading Averages

In today’s Today:

The average door-to-door journey time in Singapore is 36.8 minutes, lower than that in Hong Kong (39 minutes), London(38 minutes) and Tokyo (43 minutes), according to the data.

It’s worth noting that this average time may not necessarily mean that our transport system is on average better than those of the other cities. For it’s quite conceivable that, for example, a larger proportion of trips made on public transport in Singapore are over short distances. One could be more inclined to walk short distances in a climate like London’s, while (perhaps) in Singapore, the heat and humidity causes one to make a disproportionately larger number of short-distance trips on public transport. In short, the shorter average journey time in Singapore could just be because journeys made on public transport are shorter on average. So I wouldn’t interpret this as evidence of faster public transport in Singapore without more data.

Wow, some media attention

In today’s Today:

How can Singaporeans be encouraged to cycle more if they’re not safe on roads?

Tuesday • June 17, 2008

Letter from SHARON LIM

LAST Friday night, I was on a Tibs bus service 61 (TIBS777A) travelling from Holland Village towards the Bukit Batok bus interchange.

As the bus neared Maju Road, just before the Singapore Institute of Management, the bus came up behind two male cyclists. They were wearing helmets and bright clothes and had rear lights installed on their bicycles.

Instead of slowing down or trying to overtake the cyclist, the bus driver began blasting his horn at them continuously. He tailgated the two cyclists that at times, it seemed as if the bus was breathing down their necks.

When the bus stopped at Ngee Ann Polytechnic to allow passengers to board, the two cyclists caught up and started shouting vulgarities at the driver. The bus driver got out and a minor scuffle broke out before some passengers separated them.

If the authorities are serious about encouraging Singaporeans to cycle to work or school, shouldn’t they also ensure that cyclists are treated as rightful road users?

But if cyclists cannot ride on the pavement and are in danger of being knocked down by inconsiderate road users, how are they going to use their bicycles as a means of transport?

Risks of Sidewalk versus Road Bicycling

I promised a long time ago to post on the findings of studies on the risks of sidewalk versus on-road bicycling. From a 1994 paper by Wachtel and Lewiston studying bicycle-motor vehicle collisions in Palo Alto:

The average cyclist in this study incurs a risk on the sidewalk 1.8 times as great as on the roadway, and the result is statistically significant (p<0.01)…. Altogether the sidewalk risk is higher for 24 of the 27 categories [of cyclists], and for six of tehse the difference is statistically significant; for many groups the number of accidents expected is too small to attain significance.

The greatest risk found in this study is for bicyclists over 18 traveling against traffic on the sidewalk. Each of these characteristics is hazardous in itself; combined, they present 5.3 times the average risk.

Table 5 demonstrates that sidewalks or paths adjacent to a roadway are usually not, as non-cyclists expect, safer than the road, but much less safe. This conclusion is already well established in existing standards for bikeway design, although in our experience it is not widely known or observed.


Table 4 shows that wrong-way sidewalk travel is 4.5 times as dangerous as right-way sidewalk travel. Moreover, both Table 4 and Table 5 show that sidewalk bicycling promotes wrong-way travel: 315 of 971 sidewalk bicyclists (32 percent) rode against the direction of traffic, compared to only 108 of 2005 roadway bicyclists (5 percent).

Even right-way sidewalk bicyclists can cross driveways and enter intersections at high speed, and they may enter from an unexpected position and direction — for instance, on the right side of overtaking right-turning traffic. Sidewalk bicyclists are more likely than roadway bicyclists to be obscured at intersections by parked cars, buildings, fences, and shrubbery; their stopping distance is much greater than a pedestrian’s, and they have less maneuverability.

There is some nuance in the statistics. In reality, looking at all groups of bicyclists together, the rate of accidents (what the authors call ‘risk’) is higher for roadway bicyclists than for sidewalk bicyclists. But when cyclists are separated demographically by age, sex, and by whether they were cycling with or against traffic, for most such categories, it was riskier to cycle on the sidewalk than on the road. The reason for this apparent paradox is that higher risk is correlated with age, and age is correlated with cycling on the roadway. This meant that the large number of older cyclists on the roadways skewed the risk factor for roadway cycling higher than it actually was. If you compare cyclists in the same demographic category, though, roadway cycling was almost always less or equally dangerous.

(I would post the tables of data of all these studies if it wouldn’t run the risk of violating copyright laws. Nevertheless, those who want to see them may email me personally.)

Another study of cyclists in the Ottawa-Carleton region found a similar higher risk for sidewalk cycling:

Overall, travel on roads has the lowest injury and fall rates, followed by off-road paths/trails and then sidewalks. Collision rates are not different on the three types of facilities. The rate of injury might be considered most important by planners and cyclists from a safety perspective while the individual collision and fall rates might be considered important from the perspective of promoting bicycling if one wants to ensure positive travel experiences even when no injuries occur.

The relative rate of injury on the sidewalk versus the road is very high (4.0). Similarly, the relative
injury rate on sidewalk versus off-road paths/trails is quite high (2.5). While the relative rate of injury between paths/trails versus roads is lower ( 1.6) it is still significant and only seems small because of its magnitude compared to the other relative fall rates.consider the non-confounding and confounding variables.

Like the previous study, this one tried to eliminate the influence of confounding factors other than kind of path used. Instead of comparing risks category-by-category, though, they used other parts of their data to weight the risks they calculated accordingly.

Finally, a third study in Toronto finds that:

Overall, travel on roads has the lowest injury and fall rates, followed by off-road paths and then sidewalks. Collision rates are lower on sidewalks than on paths. But collision rates are higher on paths and sidewalks compared to roads. The relative rate of injuries and major injuries on the sidewalk versus both roads and paths is very high. While the relative rate of injury between paths versus roads is lower it is still significant for all injuries.

I should note that I did not cherry-pick these studies. I searched for studies that compared accident rates on the road versus accident rates on sidewalks, and did not find any that found a higher accident rate for road cyclists. You can try it yourself on Google Scholar.

Keep in mind, though, that even if road cycling has a lower risk of accident, a collision with a car is more likely to be fatal or result in serious injury than a fall on the sidewalk.


Aultman-Hall, L. and F. L. Hall (1998, January). Ottawa-carleton commuter cyclist on- and off-road incident rates. Accident analysis and prevention 30 (1), 29-43.

Aultman-Hall, L. and G. M. Kaltenecker (1999, November). Toronto bicycle commuter safety rates. Accident Analysis & Prevention 31 (6), 675-686.

Wachtel, A. & Lewiston, D. Risk factors for bicycle-motor vehicle collisions at intersections. Journal of Safety Research 195.

On hiatus

Doing this.

Kuala Tahan to Gunung Tahan

(I truncated an elevation profile chart of the Merapoh-Kuala Tahan traverse route that I’d found elsewhere.)