RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

30 Aug

2 Wheels Good
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
Exchange of letters between a cyclist and motorist sparks debate on how much of road space two-wheelers should take up
By Danson Cheong
August 30, 2010
 
 

JUST how close to the edge are cyclists supposed to go?

The edge of the road, that is.

Most drivers here think cyclists ought to stick as close to the kerb as possible so they don’t obstruct traffic.

But the argument from the two-wheeled camp is that occupying more of the lane would make cyclists safer and more visible.

This debate was ignited following two letters sent to The Straits Times forum pages last week.

Wire journalist Damian Evan, 30, was cycling to work along Havelock Road when a motorist sounded his horn at him.

Irritated, Mr Evan shook his fist at the driver before he ‘failed to stop for the traffic lights’, claiming his anger got the better of him.

Mr Evan subsequently wrote a letter of apology to The Straits Times forum.

The driver, Mr Chris Gan, 37, responded with a letter of his own – claiming Mr Evans was ‘riding in the middle of the left lane’ and ‘obstructing traffic and endangering himself amid passing vehicles’.

He sounded the horn as an act of concern, he said, and to ‘remind him to stay closer to the kerb near the double yellow lines’.

Mr Gan asked: ‘Are there traffic rules for cyclists? Shouldn’t they be cycling on the left lane near the double yellow lines?’

With an increasing number of cyclists taking to the roads here, more of such incidents are bound to take place.

The question now is, how close to the edge are cyclists supposed to be?

Vague law

The law is vague on the issue.

According to the Road Traffic (Bicycles) Rules, ‘every bicycle shall be ridden close to the left hand edge of the roadway and in such a manner as not to obstruct vehicles moving at a faster speed’.

It is silent on how close and in what manner cyclists have to ride.

Mr Evan, who has been cycling here for about nine years, reckons cyclists should not hug the kerb and cycle about 60cm (or an arm’s length) away from it.

‘It’s just much safer,’ he explained.

Other cyclists and cycling safety advocates shared his sentiments.

Mr Steven Lim, 43, president of the Safe Cycling Task Force, advised riders to cycle just outside the double-yellow lines.

He explained: ‘By doing this, you would have about 11/2 feet (about 50cm) of space between you and the kerb.

‘The most important thing is now you have some space to take evasive action in case of emergencies.’

He pointed out that if drivers try to overtake too closely, the extra space might be all that separates staying upright and lying face first on the ground.

Ms Joyce Leong, 54, founder of cycling club JoyRiders, agreed: ‘Cycling about an arm’s length into the lane would also make cyclists more visible, especially if you’re riding alone.’

Additionally, the kerb is widely acknowledged by cyclists as a veritable obstacle course.

‘There are all sorts of debris – broken glass, garbage, puddles, potholes and drain gutters – that you have to avoid,’ said Mr Benoit Valin, who commutes to work every day.

The 32-year-old scientist added: ‘Often the gutter is two to three inches (5 to 8cm) deeper than the asphalt. If you cycle too close, you would fall in and lose your balance.’

While all these cyclists are against kerb-hugging, many drivers are quick to point out that cyclists who do not ride on the yellow lines are often ‘road-hogging’.

One driver, Mr Ng Kok Leong, 49, a civil servant, even went so far as to say ‘even if cyclists keep close to the kerb, they’ll still be an obstruction’.

He added: ‘Drivers will still have to slow down to overtake them.’

Another driver, Ms Sarah Auyong, 19, an undergraduate, agreed.

She said: ‘Cyclists can be a hindrance and an obstruction especially during heavy traffic, when it might be difficult or dangerous for drivers to pass them. They should stick closer to the kerb.’

Some cyclists also felt cycling in the middle of the lane can be challenging, especially for newer riders.

Business consultant Ted Chan, 40, said: ‘Cycling in the middle of the lane takes a lot of guts.

For inexperienced riders, it can be very difficult. Especially in heavy traffic when drivers might be impatient.’

But Mr Valin points out that motorists should spare a thought for cyclists.

He asked: ‘A cyclist might be in your way, but that is no reason to try and overtake him dangerously.

Highway Code

Motorists should also realise that they are required to give at least 1.5m of space when passing cyclists, a rule spelt out in the Highway Code – but one which is rarely practiced in reality.

Mr Lim said: ‘This makes the space between you and the kerb even more vital. It’s a life-saver.’ The trio put the bad behaviour by drivers down to an incorrect mindset.

Said Mr Lim: ‘Many people don’t realise that bicycles are mandated by law to be on the road.’ Currently, under Rule 28 of the Road Traffic Rules, cycling on footways is prohibited (with the exception of Tampines, Singapore’s only cycling town).

Added Ms Leong: ‘Drivers should really hop on a bike and ride on the roads. Perhaps once they discover how dangerous it is, they’ll be more tolerant.

STAY SAVVY ON THE ROAD

NARROW ROAD

Keep to a single file when cycling on narrow, one-lane carriageways like Neo Tiew Road.

Ms Leong said: ‘This gives cars coming from behind some space to pass.’

WIDE ROAD

On wide roads and when cycling in a big group, it’s much safer for the group to cycle two abreast.

Mr Lim explained: ‘Cycling two abreast allows a big group to be more compact. It’s safer since the group will take less time to cross junctions.’

Ms Leong added: ‘Most of our group rides are quite big. By cycling two abreast, cars treat us like one long vehicle. When they try to overtake us, it’s much safer.’

DRAINS & GUTTERS

Dangerous especially if riding on road bicycles with thin tyres – which can get caught inside the drain covers.

DEBRIS & GARBAGE

Small, sharp objects like broken glass are often swept to the side of the road.

DEEP POTHOLES

Deep potholes near the kerb could cause riders to lose balance and fall.

TURNING RIGHT WIDE

When turning right, cyclists should ensure the coast is clear before filtering right.

Mr Lim said: ‘You should filter like a motorcyclist, but do so safely.

‘I recommend using the pedestrian crossings only to turn right if the rider is not confident enough. Especially when you’re tired and slow, using the pedestrian crossings in such instances is much safer.’

 

The NewPaper

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