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The Straits Times says

Avoid trampling grace on footpaths

The vision of a cycling nation is a necessity in a post-carbon society and a benefit in a city championing active mobility - to promote fitness and reduce rates of obesity. The long-held dependence on motorised travel simply has to yield to more versatile approaches to urban mobility that lessen not only hazards like nitrous oxide and carbon emissions but also the bane of traffic congestion. Among these is a combination of conventional and alternative travel modes that is viable when trips are relatively short - in some places over half of car trips are under 5km, here the average distance of public transport journeys is 9.5km. As such, it would not be impractical to pedal, scoot or walk along some parts of daily routes, which could be pleasant when one passes through green areas or colourful quarters of the city.

What can make or break a journey, of course, is the quality of the experience associated with different channels. For example, if bikes pose a menace to pedestrians and throngs hinder the smooth passage of cyclists, footpaths might well be venues of daily chaos and public ire. To separate fast and slow-moving groups, one could demand expensive dedicated pathways in every nook and corner of the island. That might be physically impossible when space is lacking or it might come up against various objections relating to equitable land use. A practical solution is to just make the best use of existing networks of paths.

The rub is that the culture of sharing footpaths graciously is not widespread here. Apart from the experience of Tampines, which was once the only place where cycling on the pavement was not outlawed, one cannot be sure if the experiment will succeed everywhere. Will those on machines rule the pavements and cause hurt to vulnerable users? That risk notwithstanding, Singapore has resolved to use the coming months to promote the co-existence of all users on all footpaths. The journey could be smooth if everyone accepts the fair norms proposed, or bumpy if many refuse to shed me-first habits. Sensibly, no chances are being taken. There will be greater law enforcement action in selected areas, with the use of speed guns to stop the reckless in their tracks. That is not going too far as the excesses of those on electric bikes can have serious consequences.

Gratifyingly, there will also be volunteer "active mobility patrols" set up to promote safe-cycling practices. A friendly word of guidance can nudge cyclists into always yielding to slower users, rather than intimidating or weaving dangerously around them. Frequent reminders of hazards and cues to take turns at bottlenecks and busy areas will be needed to bring about substantial changes to street behaviour. It's a cause that all should champion as considerateness on paths could percolate into other public places that must be shared courteously to be enjoyed by one and all.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2016, with the headline 'Avoid trampling grace on footpaths'. Print Edition | Subscribe