Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ride of Silence – quietly championing the rights of cyclists

I participated in my first Ride of Silence this year after having heard about the event over the last couple of years. The event, which had its origins in the US in 2003, is in fact only in its third year in Singapore.
Held every year on the third Saturday of May, the Ride of Silence has grown across the world with more than 400 participating cities in 30 countries and sees cyclists coming together to remember those who have been injured or killed while cycling on the roads.
The event is also a way to promote cycling, safe cycling and sharing of public roads.
By way of statistics, it is estimated that everyday two cyclists are hit by a motor vehicle in Singapore, of which, every two weeks, one results in a fatality.
This year’s Ride of Silence, held on 21 May, saw a sizeable number of the local cycling community converging at the Marina Bay Sands Promenade for the 20 km ride through the Central Business District. Most had also come dressed in white tops in a show of solidarity for the message and meaning behind the Ride.
Cycling at a leisurely pace of not more than 20 kmh and escorted by safety marshals and outriders, the event drew the attention of people where ever we went. Hopefully, the sight of so many cyclists riding through town brought about a sense of awareness that cyclists are road users too and not just thoughts about the novelty of the sight.
At the end of the day, a fundamental question that needs asking is just how much of an impact an event like the Ride of Silence has on the mindshare of Singapore? Over the last three years, how much improvement has been made in terms of recognizing the rights of cyclists to the use of public roads? Also, how far have we progressed in terms of educating cyclists on safe cycling – not only for themselves but also for those with whom they share the roads and cycling paths?
Without a doubt, cycling – both as a leisure activity, sport and a mode of transport – has grown in popularity over the years in Singapore. It is a common sight these days to see cyclists on the roads at all hours of the day and all over the island, with the more experienced and seasoned riders taking to the roads confidently while the newbies tend to keep themselves to the pavements (which, by the way, is an offence in Singapore, except in Tampines town) and park connectors.
There will always be the good and the bad, and debates and discussions about cycling and cyclists are expected to continue unabated in the media and discussion forums. As an aside, just days after the Ride of Silence event, at least four letters to the media on the subject of cycling were published by the mainstream media.
And the debate about cycling and cyclist has been going on even before the Ride of Silence became a regular feature in our social calendar.
While the Ride of Silence is great as a ground up initiative (it is composed exclusively of volunteers), more could be done to raise its profile and by logical extension raise the awareness of the larger Singaporean society about cycling and the general plight of cyclists.
To just rely on the cycling community and the many cycling forums to spread the message is akin to preaching to the converted. A wider reach is required and this can only be achieved by harnessing the power of the mainstream media and/or sanctioned/sponsored mass cycling events to help spread the message.
Land scarce Singapore and her highly congested roads do not really make for a conducive environment for cycling, unless you cycle very early in the morning or very late at night but even then you would have to wary of drivers who suddenly think they are F1 drivers when the traffic volume is low.
Whenever a cyclist makes a decision to ride on the road, he/she is taking a risk and can only pray that drivers will not regard them as something that is not worthy of their notice. Think about it, as a cyclist, you are completely exposed to all the dangers associated with being on the road, and despite all your efforts to be safe, all it takes is one driver distracted or impatient driver to put you in harm’s way.
It was therefore such a welcome when a 1.5 metres safety distance campaign was launched in 2010 under the OCBC Cycle Singapore banner, with the slogan ‘1.5M Matters. Share the Road’.
The campaign can be seen as a way of finding the middle ground between cyclists and motorists as it reminded everyone that observing a safe distance of 1.5 metres from each other and obeying traffic rules will enable both parties to enjoy a safe journey on our roads. It also created awareness on the need for both cyclists and motorists to respect each other and share the road.
While some gains have been achieved in terms of getting cyclists a share of the road, much work has still to be done when it comes to cyclists sharing paths/trails with walkers/joggers/hikers. Currently, most paths along the network of park connectors are built as shared paths for cyclists and walkers/joggers.
This has led to some unhappiness among walkers/joggers when cyclists speed past them on such shared paths. It would be unfair to entirely fault the cyclist because he/she is after all trying to get a workout from the ride. To be fair to everyone, walkers/joggers should avoid spreading themselves across the whole path, especially if they are in a group. This would at least provide space for a cyclist to pass the group on the shared path safely.
Maybe we need specifically designated paths for cyclists and walkers/joggers. But then again, even when designated paths are built (like in the East Coast Park or along the Hillview Park Connector), it is not uncommon to find walkers/joggers straying onto the cycling paths, thereby causing obstruction to cyclists.
Sometimes, it’s just a no-win situation for a cyclist. But we must not lose hope, and the Ride of Silence offers us that glimmer of hope to further the cause of all cyclists. And I am hopeful that we will find a point of convergence that all parties can subscribe to in order to make the pursuit of our individual passions possible.

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