[Part of] my feedback at ‘Sustainable Singapore’

I had already posted some feedback along quite similar lines at their main feedback page, but I was so disappointed by their ‘Commute’ feedback page, for its unstated assumption that any further accommodation of cyclists will take place only on sidewalks, that I submitted another piece of feedback particularly for the ‘Commute’ section:


I am disappointed that this section does not seem to even consider the possibility of improving conditions for cycling on the roads. Little attention has been paid to research that has been done on the far higher accident rates for cyclists on footpaths as compared to cyclists on roads. For links to several such studies, see here:

It has always been assumed, by both urban planners and the general public, that cyclists are safer on footpaths. As such, cyclists on the roads suffer because drivers think that we do not have a ‘right’ to safety on the roads. As a cyclist, when I speak to drivers, they usually express shock and disapproval that I cycle on the roads. It is time to reconsider our entrenched attitude that roads belong only to motor vehicles and that bicycles belong on sidewalks. The number one reason why cycling is not a popular mode of transport in Singapore is that it is unsafe to cycle. As the studies linked to above outline, sidewalks present their own safety hazards, containing more obstacles than the roads and restricting cyclists’ visibility to motorists at intersections (which is where most accidents occur). The countries in which cycling is safest (e.g. the Netherlands) create dedicated cycling lanes rather than mix cyclists with pedestrians.

Given that the countries most experienced with accommodating cyclists wisely keep cyclists separate from pedestrians, and given that any research that has been done on the comparative risks of sidewalk versus road cycling has found sidewalk cycling to have higher accident rates, it is time to reexamine the assumption that cyclists can be accommodated only on the sidewalks. The current suboptimal conditions for road cycling are perpetrated by a lack of will on the part of transport planners to accommodate cyclists on the roads. It therefore begs the question to argue that cyclists should not be on the roads because the roads are unsafe for them. The question we should be asking is why we have created a situation where the roads are unsafe for cyclists in the first place. This is the question that urban planners in many parts of continental Europe asked themselves in the 1970s and 1980s, and that is the reason why they now have some of the most sustainable cities in the world. Sustainable development is not compatible with sticking to an assumption that road space for motor vehicles is sacred. Perhaps we should start to recognise that public transport is not the only alternative to driving. We can get people out of their cars and onto their bikes, if only we have the imagination to question some of our basic assumptions about our already too-generous provisions for private motorists. As I’ve stated in feedback elsewhere on this website, transport experts everywhere acknowledge that bicycles are a much more land-efficient mode of transport than cars, because you need less land to transport the same number of people on bicycles compared to the same number in cars. Given our scarcity of land, therefore, it is all the more important that we consider converting some of our existing road space, inefficiently utilised by car drivers, to space that can transport more people by bicycles.

In short,
1. Please reconsider the possibility that cycling on the roads can be made safe enough to transport significant numbers of people on bicycles on roads. This is for the good of everyone (less pollution, less congestion for the same land area, less annoying of pedestrians). Other cities have done it and are still economically thriving; there is no reason why Singapore cannot. Judging by the experiences of other cities, claims of economic disaster should we take away road space from motorists are greatly exaggerated, probably by motorists themselves.
2. Please take a hard look at all the research that shows the dangers of sidewalk cycling relative to road cycling. Look at other cities’ experiences with accommodating cyclists, instead of making decisions on ‘commonsensical’ grounds about where bicycles belong. This is not a new area of exploration, but one that many other cities have vast experience with. We should learn from the experts.

Thank you for considering my feedback.


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