Friday, December 11, 2009

Road Socialism with Singaporean characteristics

I just saw an article in the Straits Times entitled 3 Accidents in a Day: Cyclists concerned. The road can be dangerous. The article repeats the same vibe: motorists (probably the non-riding crowd) hate us and would want to throw us all on the footpaths if possible. Likewise, cyclists hate motorists and fear motorists.

The Beef

But let's take a closer look at what the article from December 12's Home section talks about: Mavis Toh writes an article about how three accidents sparked some kind of civil war. He writes,

"Motorists are frustrated with cyclists who they say road hog and switch lanes abruptly, often without regard for traffic behind them. The cyclists, however, say motorists are impatient and often drive too close to them and too fast, especially when overtaking."

I don't know if Toh is writing from hearsay or experience and I don't know under what circumstances does this happen, but I have both heard such complaints and seen it happen. It happens with different groups of riders. The more garang group of riders - cyclists with expensive road bikes on their training rides in a peloton can occupy the whole lane (see Mandai Road, Changi Coastal Road). Nobody who is training likes to cut their training short by a red light, and taking a whole lane is safer than riding in one line. Especially since a motorist can take the other lanes if he or she doesn't like going at 30km/h. That's not road hogging. That's just what the left lane is for - slow moving vehicles. Foreign workers also can contribute to this problem quite significantly. The tiongkokkers especially. I don't know why, they love to do things abreast. They ride abreast, which is OK. But they walk abreast and often they like to do it on the road, where they should f*** off from. Nothing wrong it seems to them, probably because two lives out of 1.3 billion is not a big figure. But seriously, they aren't doing anything wrong if they ride abreast, just that an ungraceful and impatient driver would probably love to give them two middle fingers, but unfortunately, cars don't come with

But what about people who abruptly switch lanes? I've never seen it happen but I do know that it is one of the most dangerous things to do on the road. God bless he who does that.

I personally drive and ride. I can feel for both parties, though I am still more biased towards a cyclist's woes than anything else. After all, while in a car you can rack up thousands of dollars in damages, but on a commuting bicycle (not a Pinarello), you don't pay in terms of significant damage to your wallet, but you pay in terms of losing a lot of skin to the road, blood and tears.

Toh goes on in his article to put some case studies, such as a 40 year old man riding on the middle lane, hogging traffic. The summons that the TP have been issuing for flouting rules, and about a group of bike advocates called the Safe Cycling Task Force which sounds like a garang advocacy group (c.f. Task Force). desiring bike lanes, of which the LTA essentially gives them a middle finger. And finally, the president of the National Safety Council desiring to implement compulsory helmet laws.

How to be safe?

How then, can we interpret this article to make commuting more safe? There are a lot of articles out there that can be Googled about road safety, but let's talk about sharing the road with vehicles specifically in Singapore based on this article. First off, let's examine the quoted portion of the article.

Motorists hate you for road hogging and abruptly switching lanes. You hate the motorist for driving too close to you especially when overtaking. This is an easy one. Keep left, single-file. When switching lanes, use your hand to signal, and make it bloody obvious. Some cyclists signal, but often they just use their finger. Not a very intuitive thing to the motorist. Straighten your arm and palm out in the direction you want to go, and hopefully, the motorist hasn't forgot his driving theory tests. Then look behind in the direction, check your rear and give way to whoever refuses to allow you in, after all they have the right of way. Move in when it is safe.

But what about errant motorist overtaking you too closely? This is a bit of a difficult one. Sometimes drivers don't get the opportunity to eat into the adjacent lane so they can give you the space you need. The solution is simple, engage in some Road Machiavellianism. If you feel unsafe, or are riding a bike you are new on, keep away from the curb. Don't ride between the double yellow lines, but rather, outside of it, taking as much space as you can responsibly, so that if the driver decides to overtake you, you'll force him to do it safely, and as a safeguard, you have that extra space to the curb which you can fall back on in case the motorist still doesn't.

Riding on the pavement is often quoted as safer than riding on the roads, and it is, but it is illegal. The article talks about TPs giving you fines for riding on the pathways. Logically, don't ride on the pavement if you are on a crowded street, you might hurt pedestrians who can sue you like a bitch. I never like to ride on the pavement, but don't be held back by rules that are a danger to your own safety. At times, you should, if you deem it safer, to ride on the pavements, but only at a slow speed, at best at a slow jog's pace. I can quote a place where it is safer to ride on the pathway - Lentor Avenue heading towards YCK. Midway, there will be a slip road that leads to the SLE, and a cyclist who is 100% law abiding would have a hell of a dangerous time trying to get to the centre lane. On the other hand, the smart cyclist would get on the pathway that goes under the slip road, and rejoin the road after this very dangerous stretch of road. Judgement matters, while the all-encompassing law is mostly right, it's best to know your limits and work from there.

The crux is: use your head, wear a helmet and follow rules. Roads can be dangerous if you flout rules, a 10kg bicycle is nimble and agile, but it cannot beat a 1,500kg vehicle. You will die hard, and you only need one hit to lose quite a significant part of yourself.

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