Thursday, March 31, 2011

Should cyclists be licensed? Pass tests? Or does cycling safely just require common sense? Letters to Today Online

TODAYonline | Voices - should cyclists be licensed?
Only the letters are available below; click to read the letters and comments,

"Cyclists should have to get licensed too." Letter from Raymund Koh Joo Guan. Today Online, 21 Mar 2011.
I refer to the article about bicycle theft being prevalent in Tampines (March 21).

The menace of bicycles everywhere and the scourge of illegally parked bicycles causing obstruction to pedestrians are not new. The authorities should consider mandating all bicycles to have registration plates and ID tags.

All bicycles should be registered with the Land Transport Authority. Cyclists need not pay road tax but they should be subjected to a toll if they wish to use the bus lanes.

Some errant cyclists ride and chat in the middle of the bus lanes, obstructing buses. While the LTA takes enforcement action against motorists caught abusing bus lanes, there isn't anyway to track offending cyclists. Therefore, registration plates for bicycles are useful.

With bicycle numbers on the raise, we have seen more cyclists riding illegally on the pavements. The Traffic Police and Town Councils have a hard time enforcing the rules. Bicycles are also sold without any move to advise cyclists that cycling on the pavement is an offence.

The authorities should make it mandatory for all cyclists to obtain a licence, similar to a motorbike license. The applicants must pass a theory test. Practical tests should be carried out on both motorised and conventional bikes.

This would drive home to the public that we take a serious view on cycling on the pavements, not to mention the use of stolen bicycles.

"Licences would make cycling less accessible." Letter from Aaron Samuel Yong Today Online, 23 Mar 2011.
I READ Mr Raymund Koh Joo Guan's letter "Cyclists should have to get licenced too" (March 21, Voices Online) with an odd mixture of empathy, bewilderment and ultimately disagreement.

As an occasional motorist, avid cyclist and frequent pedestrian, I can safely say that the cycling environment in Singapore is already bordering on hostile without adding administrative problems for cyclists on top of the existing physical ones. I myself have encountered visibly irritated drivers and had my space uncomfortably encroached upon by lumbering heavy vehicles while cycling on the road - just as brazen cyclists have made me unsettlingly wary while driving or downright cross while walking.

What Singaporeans need to understand, however, is that by most measures, cyclists are at the losing end of the transport deal.

Cycling on roads, though technically the law-abiding option, is not safe by any stretch of the imagination, no matter how many precautions both cyclists and motorists take. The excellent Park Connector network leaves me in no doubt that the Government would do even more to cater to cyclists if we were not so constrained by space, but the reality of today is that every cyclist takes a risk every time he or she journeys out onto the road.

Singapore already has a reputation for rather zealous administrative policies; a bicycle registration and cycling licensing scheme would almost certainly make us a laughing stock in the international community.

Besides being a completely unnecessary burden on the Land Transport Authority's time and resources as well as taxpayers' money, such a scheme would only serve to discourage thousands of Singaporeans from engaging in an extremely affordable, environmentally-friendly and healthy mode of transport.

To license a cyclist is to both over-complicate and completely miss the point of the activity: Cycling appeals because it is so accessible to people of all ages. I am hard-pressed to imagine a scene more ridiculous than a nine-year-old girl innocently pedalling along the East Coast Park on a S$90-bike, registration plates mounted front and back and a licence in her pocket.

It would be a scenario of unprecedented micro-management on the Government's part. What next, a pedestrian licence to drive home our serious view on jaywalking?

As for the issue of illegally-parked bicycles, I would expect the authorities to first do something about the plethora of illegally-parked (and actually registered) motorcycles obstructing pavements across the island and the motorcyclists with the audacity to tailgate passers-by while parking them, before finding fault with humble human-powered vehicles.

"Rules for cyclists to live by." Letter from Isaac Koh Zhao Jin. Today Online, 24 Mar 2011. Tests, insurance would help to ensure their safety on the roads
I REFER to the letter "Licences would make cycling less accessible" (March 23). Mr Aaron Samuel Yong correctly pointed out that cycling on the roads is not safe.

What he did not point out is that Singapore has one of the highest vehicle densities in the world and we need to adapt our traffic rules accordingly.

As a motorist, I've witnessed countless near-misses involving reckless cyclists. Many do not know the risks involved and forcing them to go through proper lessons and training would go a long way towards mitigating accidents and fatalities.

I've seen cyclists going against the flow of traffic, riding without reflectors at night and even a pair hogging two lanes during peak hours.

I would like to suggest that cyclists meet the following criteria before being allowed on the roads:

  1. Cyclists must know and abide by existing traffic rules. Having them pass the basic/final theory tests by the Traffic Police would be sufficient.
  2. Cyclists should be able to pass the "plank-test" required of all motorcyclists. Cyclists unable to maintain good balance pose a danger to motorists and themselves.
  3. Cyclists need to know what safety precautions to take. Penalties should be imposed on those failing to comply.
  4. Motorcyclists are required by law to wear crash helmets; cyclists should not be exempted.
  5. Cyclists must be able to ride at a minimum speed to avoid holding up traffic. A minimum speed of 30kmh should be required.
  6. Like all motorists, cyclists should be insured against accidents. Currently, motorists bear the cost of any accident involving cyclists. Cyclists must share the responsibility.

These may seem draconian but remember that, in any accident, cyclists may suffer more injuries.

It should be the cyclists' responsibility to ensure their own safety and it should never be at the expense of other road users.

Licensing cyclists is not about protecting cyclists from motorists: it's about protecting cyclists from themselves.

"Better to cycle against flow of traffic." Letter from Lim Kai Teck Andrew. Today Online, 26 Mar 2011.
I refer to the letter "Rules for cyclists to live by " by Isaac Koh Zhao Jin. I do not think he has ever met with a bicycle accident. My brother observed the traffic rules and cycled with the flow of traffic. He was unable to assess the behaviour of the motorist behind him; he was also knocked down not knowing by whom or even what kind of vehicle.

It would be so much better to cycle against the flow of traffic, so that the cyclist can determine if a motorist appears reckless or drunk, and at least in the event of being knocked down, the cyclist can note the model of the vehicle or even better, the licence number.

It it ridiculous for Mr Koh to suggest having cyclists go for basic/final theory tests. Imagine uneducated aunties or grannies being forced to take the tests. Cycling safely requires just common sense, such as not speeding when there are passers-by on the pavement, and observing the traffic crossing rules.

"Battling bicycle thieves" - Tampines GRC launches high security labels for bicycles

"Battling bicycle thieves," by Ong Dai Lin. Today Online, 21 Mar 2011.
SINGAPORE - Bicycle thefts - the No 1 scourge of cyclists here - could soon become a thing of the past.

Tampines GRC yesterday became the first constituency to launch high security labels for bicycles - and the programme will be rolled out by the police and the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) to other constituencies in phases from May.

NCPC chairman Tan Kian Hoon said: "The NCPC is always looking at different ways to stop preventable crimes. As the bicycle population increases in Singapore, it is timely that we have a more proactive approach to tackling bike theft. By giving bicycles a unique identity, it would make it harder for thieves to use their stolen bikes openly."

In 2009, 1,074 cases of bike theft were reported to the police, a spike of 399 cases from 2008, prompting the police to list this as an area of concern in their 2009 crime situation report. Last year, the number of bicycle theft cases fell sharply to 719 cases. Out of these cases, some 240 bicycle thieves were caught.

In March last year, Tampines officially became Singapore's first cycling town when amended by-laws took effect to allow Tampines Town Council to take enforcement action against reckless cyclists on footways.

Yesterday, it became the first to launch the bicycle security label programme, as part of its efforts to be a "model cycling town".

Under the initiative, residents who own bicycles can obtain tamper-proof labels which contain security features. They are also encouraged to register the labels in the online Bicycle Identification System administered by Tampines Town Council.

Said Tampines GRC Member of Parliament Irene Ng: 'With more residents owning bicycles and using it as a mode of transport, we thought it will benefit our residents to work with the police to launch the bicycle security labels in Tampines."

Holland Drive resident Edwin Ang, 36, could hardly wait for the project to be extended islandwide. His S$3,000 mountain bike was stolen from outside his flat despite having a lock on it.

Said the avid cyclist: "The tamper-proof labels and getting cyclists to register their security labels is a good idea - it will be easier for the police to track stolen bikes. Thieves might think twice about stealing a bike if they know they can be traced."

Letter writer says, "Make it mandatory for cyclists to wear helmets," - what do you think?

"Make it mandatory for cyclists to wear helmets," The Straits Times Forum page, 31 Mar 2011.
AS SOMEONE who has often cycled on Pulau Ubin, I was horrified to read yesterday's report ('Danger spots for cyclists on Pulau Ubin'), which said that three cyclists had died in accidents on the island since 2006.

I am appalled that many cyclists place a higher priority on their comfort than their safety. While those on the roads do not hesitate to wear helmets as they know the head gear can save their lives, cyclists on Pulau Ubin have tuned out the dangers of head injuries.

Cyclists should be educated on the importance of wearing helmets. It should also be made mandatory for those renting bicycles to wear them.

Cyclists should be told in no uncertain terms that a sweaty head is better than a broken head.

Joanna Chan (Ms)

What do you think?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"Danger spots for cyclists on Pulau Ubin" - another leisure cyclist dies

Click to view the ST Infographic
"Danger spots for cyclists on Pulau Ubin," by Elizabeth Soh. The Strait Times, 30 Mar 2011. Riders unfazed by death of tourist last Friday; few wear safety helmets.
LESS than a week after a cyclist died from being flung off her bicycle on one of Pulau Ubin's steep slopes, cyclists are traversing the island, ignoring the safety signs.

More than 30 of them, some just metres apart, have been posted along some of the more notorious stretches of road, along with road humps and convex mirrors where there are blind corners.

'Steep slope ahead', 'Slow' or 'Dismount', the signs warn, but cyclists - whether or not they have heard of the death last Friday of Chinese tourist Nao Xue Ping, 45 - are unfazed.

They blaze down the island's hilly, twisty trails with which they are unfamiliar, and few, if any, wear helmets.

Madam Nao, who was also not wearing a helmet, lost control of her bicycle as she was going downhill along Jalan Batu Ubin. Flung forward, she died of head injuries on her way to hospital.

Two Singaporeans died in similar accidents there in 2006 and 2008; Ubin villagers count an average of 10 serious cycling accidents a month, all in the same hot spots - Jalan Batu Ubin, the stretch near Belatok Hut, Jalan Mamam, the road leading to Chek Jawa Reserve and Jalan Wat Siam or 'Cemetery Hill'. All have either steep slopes or abrupt bends.

Bicycle shop owners there say the accidents are almost always the same, caused by ignorance of the dangerous terrain and riders not wearing helmets.

'Most biking injuries occur when the cyclist slams on the brakes in panic while going down a slope fast,' said bike shop owner Sit Chin Chwee, 58, who showed how a sudden engagement of the front brakes would propel the rear of the bike into the air and pitch the rider off.

Operators in the five shops The Straits Times spoke to say that not even one in 10 of those renting bicycles rents helmets; neither do they pay attention to safety briefings by the shop owners.

Mr Harry Yeo, 45, who has run a bicycle rental shop there for more than a decade, said: 'I invested in more than 100 helmets two years ago, hoping to promote safety, but to date, not even five have been rented out.'

Little good came from his playing safety evangelist and handing helmets out free with bike rentals. He said: 'When I give them out free, they don't wear them and lose them. I give up.'

Emergency doctors say a helmet could have saved Madam Nao. Dr Kenneth Heng of Tan Tock Seng Hospital said a helmet can cut the risk of head injury by 88 per cent, and the risk of facial injury by 65 per cent.

But comfort seems to come first.

Polytechnic student Daniel Lee, 20, who cycles up Jalan Wat Siam because the trail there is 'the most exciting', said: 'When I wear the helmet, my head gets hot and sweaty and I can't enjoy the scenery, so what's the point?'

And there are the cyclists who think they take enough precautions.

Mr Albert Soo, 33, who was cycling without a helmet yesterday, said: 'I don't go too fast. To get down the slope, I dismount and push my bicycle when I need to.'

Road signs aside, the authorities have tried raising safety awareness by opening the 45ha Ketam Bike Park near the islands' Ketam Quarry. This park has trails with defined levels of difficulty and signs reminding riders to don helmets.

In February last year, the Land Transport Authority closed Jalan Wat Siam after two cyclists died from head injuries in falls on a steep slope there.

When The Straits Times visited the site, a barrier stood across it and signs barring unauthorised vehicles were up, but the road is still accessible to dare-devils who inch around the barrier.

Cycling associations have called for even more to be done to promote cycling safety on the island.

Mr Alvin Goh, the leader of cycling interest group Joyriders, said: 'It may seem like common sense to get off your bike if you are not fit or confident enough to tackle difficult roads, but many people do not. There has to be proper education and maybe even direct supervision in dangerous areas.'

Mr Kelvin Liew, the team manager of SMUX-tremists, the outdoor adventure wing of the Singapore Management University, advised those going off road on Ubin to wear helmets, gloves and knee guards and avoid the 'more technical' stretches of roads if they are beginners.

They should also carry mini first aid kits and the Ubin map, which has the contact number of the Ubin police post.

Additional reporting by Neo Wen Tong and Rocco Hu

Thanks to WildSingapore for the alert.

"Chinese tourist dies in Ubin bike accident," by Elizabeth Soh. The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2011.
A CHINESE tourist has died after being flung off her bicycle on a stretch of road known for accidents.

Madam Nao Xueping, 45, suffered severe head injuries in the fall on Pulau Ubin last Friday. She was rushed to hospital but died on the way.

It is understood that she and her friend, Singapore Chinese chess grandmaster Tay Siang Hock, 76, were not wearing helmets.

Mr Tay told Lianhe Wanbao that Madam Nao had cycled ahead of him up a slope. He was unable to catch up so she cycled back down to help him. As she was doing so, her bicycle appeared to hit an object, causing her to lose control and flinging her forward. He said she started to throw up blood and lost consciousness following the accident.

The stretch of road called Jalan Batu is one of several places on Pulau Ubin where there have been multiple cycling accidents and even deaths. Other places include Jalan Wat Siam, dubbed Cemetery Hill. There were an average of four accidents a month on that stretch in 2008, according to media reports at the time.

There were two fatal accidents on the trail in 2006 and 2008, which led to it being closed in July last year.

Another danger area is a slope in front of Belatok Hut, where TV personality Dennis Chew was flung off his bicycle while descending, breaking his arm and four teeth, in 2007.

Avid cyclist Benjamin Huang, 26, who has been cycling on Pulau Ubin twice a month for the past six years, told The Straits Times that he and two friends were thrown from their bicycles in an accident along Jalan Batu in August.

Fortunately, there were no injuries as all three were wearing helmets and knee guards.

He said it is easy for cyclists to underestimate how steep the slopes on Pulau Ubin are. 'They don't realise as they are going down how fast the bicycle is going, so they panic and slam on their brakes, which flings them off their bikes,' he said. 'They also need to wear helmets - it could save their lives.'