Whose road is it anyway? Cars vs Bicycles vs Pedestrians

Cars versus bikes versus bicycles versus pedestrians. It’s a jungle out there on the roads and it’s unlikely to get better anytime soon

I could feel my blood pressure rise as our car neared him.

What an idiot, I said out loud.

I was on my way to work last Monday morning when I saw a man on an electric kickscooter.

He was on a busy main road – Upper Serangoon Road in front of the nex mall – and cut a small figure in office clothes and a helmet. Cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles and bicycles were whizzing past him.

His hands were on the handlebars and his feet were planted on a platform not much wider than his shoes. He was zipping along the leftmost lane at what I’m guessing was at least 20kmh.


ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE

Vehicles had to edge out of their lane when they passed him, nudging into the next lane.

Is he waiting to be knocked down, I fumed to H, who was driving.

The e-scooter is so flimsy, the wheels are so small and he can easily be thrown off. He is not only endangering his own life, but putting every other road user’s life in danger too, I cried. If he wants to ride, shouldn’t he at least be on the pavement?

I was so worked up that when we got close to him, I wound down my car window and shouted: "Pavement! Pavement!"

Okay, I didn’t really shout that loudly. I didn’t dare to because a) what if I alarmed him and he lost his balance, fell off and got run over and b) it’s not nice to shout.

But I did utter those words in a raised voice. I had to get it out of my system because I have had it with inconsiderate road users.

Once upon a time, inconsiderate road users referred to fellow drivers who committed traffic sins such as speeding, tailgating, not signalling before turning and refusing to give way.

They also included motorcyclists who tailgated and who weaved in and out of traffic.

In more recent times,when cycling became popular,some cyclists joined the ranks of road users from hell with their reckless ways.

In the last two, three years, another vexing group of road users has popped up.

These are users of what’s termed "personal mobility devices" – kickscooters, e-scooters, unicycles and hoverboards among them.

Under current laws, motorised personal mobility devices are not allowed on pavements, roads and park connectors. You should use them only on private premises.

But that hasn't stopped many from merrily using them, like that man on Monday.

The authorities seem to have adopted a let-them-be approach too.The result? It's a jungle out there with wheels of every size jostling for space with pedestrians, including pesky ones with noses stuck in their smartphones.

Tempers get frayed, groups of road users berate one another and there have been accidents.

Last year, the Government formed a panel to look into how common spaces can be shared "safely and harmoniously". Its recommendations have been accepted and will become law by year's end.When that happens:

• Footpaths: Bicycles, personal mobility devices such as e-scooters and aids such as motorised wheelchairs are allowed, but not electric bicycles. Maximum speed is 15kmh.

• Cycling and shared paths: Bicycles, electric bicycles and mobility devices and aids are allowed.Maximum speed is 25kmh.

• Roads: Bicycles and electric bicycles can ride on roads but not personal mobility devices or aids.

The panel also suggested a code of conduct, such as how people on machines must always give way to pedestrians.

The moves are good, but I doubt differences between the various groups of road users can be easily or quickly resolved.

The deepest tension is between motorists and cyclists. (Before motorists/cyclists jump on me, I’m not saying all motorists and cyclists hate each other or that every motorist/cyclist breaks the law).

Motorists (me included) have a long list of complaints about some cyclists, such as:

Why do they squeeze into small gaps between large vehicles?

Why don't they think road rules apply to them?

Why do they cut across lanes without warning?

Why do they ignore Stop signs and red traffic lights?

Why do they assume it's easy for drivers, especially of large vehicles, to see them?

Why don't they signal when they want to filter or turn?

Why do they ride in packs taking up the whole lane?

Why don't their machines have lights at night?

Why do they think it's okay to switch from cycling on the road one moment to cycling across a pedestrian crossing without warning, just because it suits them?

On pavements, why do cyclists creep up on you, ringing their bells alarmingly? Why do they expect pedestrians to jump out of the way for them?

This behaviour makes me especially angry because years ago, one of my great-aunts in Japan was killed when a cyclist hit her when she was out for her morning walk. She was in her 80s.

Why do cyclists who infringe traffic rules get away with it? When was the last time you heard of a cyclist getting a ticket?

And, finally, why don't cyclists have to pay road tax?

But if you look at the issue from a cyclist’s point of view, motorists can be obnoxious too, like:

Why are motorists such bullies, never giving cyclists respect or right of way?

Why do motorists talk as if cyclists are always breaking the rules when we all know drivers do just that? (Speeding, tailgating, hogging, drink driving and using the phone, to name a few.)

Why can't motorists acknowledge that cyclists help lower carbon emissions and ease the load on buses and trains? And that by keeping healthy, they aren't such a burden to society?

Why don't motorists see how vulnerable cyclists are on the road and be more considerate?

Why can't they understand that while cyclists know they should keep left, riders also face hazards such as drain grates which their wheels can get caught in, flinging them onto the road?

Why can't motorists see that while, yes, cyclists don't pay road tax, they take up so much less space and do far less damage to both roads and the environment than vehicles? Besides, one more bike on the road could also mean one fewer car– and more space for people who want to drive.

The motorist versus cyclist debate isn't peculiar to Singapore. In just about every big city where cycling has become popular, there have been nasty exchanges between both sides.

Governments have taken steps to try to make everyone happy, but some measures are controversial.

For example, there are pros and cons to dedicated bike lanes. Proponents say they make cycling feel safer. Opponents say it gets dangerous at intersections where cyclists and motorists have to cut into each other's lanes to turn.

I think it's best not to condemn and complain about each other too much. Being a motorist/cyclist isn’t mutually exclusive and many are both. It helps when you can see the other person’s point of view.

For me right now, the car is my main mode of transport. But I foresee a future when the bicycle or even a personal mobility device such as a kickscooter becomes my preferred choice of travel, at least for short journeys.

Cars are so expensive and parking spaces will become more rare. More importantly, cycling is a healthier choice than driving. Even light cycling is a good calorie burner–about 350 calories an hour against 100 calories from just sitting. Cycling is also easier on the joints than jogging.

Whether cycling becomes a safer choice, though, will depend on everyone realising that roads don't just belong to one group of users but to everyone. Clearer traffic rules, stricter enforcement, better infrastructure and continual public education will help.

I will still maintain, though, that riding a kickscooter on a main road is simply idiotic.

• Follow Sumiko Tan on Twitter @STsumikotan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 24, 2016, with the headline 'Whose road is it anyway?'. Print Edition | Subscribe