Sharing footpaths

Infrastructure, new rules of engagement needed

The recommendations to allow bicycles on footpaths ("Allow mobility devices, bikes on footpaths: Panel") and the proposed general rules ("Code of conduct puts pedestrians' safety first"; both published last Friday) are only first steps to addressing the sharing of footpaths.

For these idealistic recommendations to be effective, we need supporting infrastructure and new rules of engagement.

The authorities need to consider pertinent factors.

First, footpaths were originally built for pedestrians, and are, at most, 1.5m wide.

Infrastructural changes, such as widening pathways or including designated bicycle paths, are necessary to transform the current footpaths to pathways that allow bicycles.

Second, a mindset shift on the interpretation of right of way is crucial.

A suggested code of conduct is that cyclists must always give way to pedestrians on footpaths.

Currently, riding on footpaths is illegal, except in Tampines town. Yet, many cyclists behave otherwise.

For example, if there is an elderly person on the footpath with his caregiver by his side, fellow pedestrians would simply walk around them, while cyclists tend to ring their bells, demanding the right to pass.

Extensive educational campaigns would be needed to change the mindsets of cyclists.

Third, it was recommended that bicycles should be allowed on footpaths within a speed limit of 15kmh.

That translates to 4m per second. At that speed, the impact can still cause extensive injury. The maximum speed limit may need further review.

Fourth, the current regulations are clear - those who ride on pavements meant for pedestrians and end up hurting others can end up in jail. If a footpath becomes a shared pathway, new regulations should clearly define accountability, and enforcement is key.

Lastly, there must be a safety net for pedestrians who are hurt by cyclists who fail to stop and take responsibility.

It is currently not mandatory for a cyclist to pass a cycling proficiency test, display a licence plate or purchase insurance cover to compensate the injured for medical fees.

When a hit-and-run incident happens, there must be an avenue for the injured pedestrian to seek redress.

We need a better approach than expecting people to use common sense to adhere to rules.

Pedestrians and cyclists can co-exist on the same pathway if the authorities look at the rules of engagement holistically and provide supporting infrastructure.

Jean Gwee Chin Chin (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2016, with the headline 'Infrastructure, new rules of engagement needed'. Print Edition | Subscribe