I am referring to the recent unfortunate accident of the cyclist who lost her life and it comes just two months after another two cyclists were knocked down. There are many thoughts - both angry and upset around this on who is in the right or wrong. I come from the angle of an ex-cyclist (I've not been cycling for at least 2 years now and no longer call myself a 'cyclist') and an occasional driver.
So in the recent case, the lady was a seasoned cyclist of 15 years. Was the driver totally at fault? No one knows unless you were physically there to witness the accident. Was it then her fault or a momentarily error of judgement? I don't know her personally so I can't comment. But what I do know is that a couple of years ago, I did a photo shoot with her for a newspaper and spent some time chit-chatting with her during the shoot. She was an accomplished triathlete having completed Ironmans and my impression of her was that she really knew her stuff and she was giving me friendly advice - she had a wonderful personality.
I believe if you have participated in Ironmans and have cycled for 15 years, it is safe to assume that your cycling skills are of a certain standard and I believe she wouldn't be a reckless cyclist. So whose fault is it? I don't know. The point is, it is not to argue whose fault is it really. In some cases, it is obvious but again, that isn't my point of discussion.
Many ask why I chose to stop doing triathlons.
It is really simple.
1) I stopped enjoying the swimming, I didn't enjoy cycling on the roads.
2) I was getting more injuries from triathlons than running alone.
3) I didn't like the way my body started to bulk up.
And the last reason?
I didn't want my family to continue worrying for me. It is as simple as that.
You see, I am not what one would call a 'seasoned cyclist'. I am far from that. I can ride on a road bike, participate in a race, execute basic hand signals whilst cycling on the road but that is just about it. I get scared when a car or worse, bus, honks at me. I get wobbly riding in between the curb and the vehicle. In short, I am scared on the road and in reality, it not only puts me at a risk, I do become a road hazard at times.
My dad would always tell me - Don't forget to switch on your blinking lights. And ride safe. I knew my parents would constantly worry for the duration of my ride. As most of my friends rode in the west side, I would cab it down to meet them. Once, I had a sudden surge of courage to ride down all the way from the east side to the west. It was a traumatizing experience for me. That was the first time and the last that I rode alone on the road.
So you are wondering, what am I trying to drive at?
Well, simply, there is no distinct right or wrong. There are many sides of looking at it -
1) Before the trend of triathlons came onto the scene in Singapore, there weren't many cyclists on the road. Then the boom came and many more people are cycling. However, Singaporean drivers are not used to sharing the roads with cyclists. It takes some time to get accustomed to it and a certain amount of education on how to share the roads friendly and safely.
In Amsterdam, there are dedicated bike lanes throughout the city. It is voted as one of the top bike friendly cities in the world. BUT, you must understand that the drivers there are used to having cyclists around the city and sharing the roads with cyclists.
In Portland or most parts of Oregon even, pedestrians are the king of the road. Cyclists included. There are also dedicated bike lanes that vehicles aren't allowed to cross over onto. Cars willingly give way to cyclists and pedestrians. When I was running early in the morning, it was the car's right of way, but he actually stopped to allow us to cross. I was stunned. But that is Oregon for you. The drivers do not honk at each other, they drive safely.
It is different here in Singapore. Drivers have a tendency to honk at each other in exasperation and even if there are bus lanes which they aren't allowed to drive in, they would take any opportunity to do so - the reason why fines need to be implemented in order to curb this behavior. But that is the nature of drivers here. As much as it sucks, it's just a culture..
We cannot expect the drivers in Singapore to adapt overnight. We need to give them time and more importantly, drive awareness on how we can make cycling safer here in Singapore.
2) Road bullying here is common. Seeing whose car can go faster, refusing to give way even though the car has signaled. It's a common sight here. It's frustrating, yes, but that is the nature here. We can hope that it will change but we have to be really patient. I believe even motorcycles here feel at danger. There is also a debate that they themselves ride unsafely - the same debate about cyclists. If a bike was motorized, would it be asked to comply to the same rules as vehicles? Even though it is quite different from a motorcycle? What can be done? Educating and creating awareness on how to regard cyclists on the roads and likewise for cyclists on how to ride safely on roads.
3) When you drive a car/van etc, you need to buckle up. The same way every cyclist, and I mean every cyclist including the people that don't ride road bikes and cycle on a bike from Carrefour or a mountain bike to go to the market, need to wear safety gear. A helmet is an absolute must, rear and front lights and anything to make you visible on the road. I have seen many non-road bikers riding without a helmet or any lights. If you want to be treated equally on the road, then adhere to the rules. This has to be implemented for ALL cyclists because I believe most road cyclists wear helmets and have lights but it is the other cyclists that give everyone a bad name. Again, education?
4) Cyclists, don't expect to always have the right of way. There are traffic rules to abide too and it applies to you. Likewise, drivers, don't bully the cyclists. Don't deliberately drive your vehicle so close to the curb that you force the cyclist to the side. Sometimes, it wouldn't hurt to give way. My colleague almost got into an accident when the long vehicle didn't watch the blind spot whilst making a left turn. As the long vehicle started to turn, the metal parts that were sticking out from the side protruded into his path. He would have been hit had he not jump off the bike and hopped onto the grass.
As a runner, whenever I see a cyclist on the pavement, I step aside. I read from a running magazine that it is easier for a runner or pedestrian to step aside and give way then for a cyclist to swerve and change paths. Sometimes, that applies to drivers too..
5) Drivers argue that cyclists should ride on the pavements or park connectors. However, I do disagree. A pavement is not continuous and it is even more dangerous for a cyclist to ride on it. Likewise, cycling at a park like East Coast is the same. You have kids on bikes, people on rollerblades, strollers, toddlers and every living thing running around. It is more hazardous. If cyclists abide to the road rules, would drivers then be okay to share the road, in a friendly manner?
6) As a non-seasoned cyclist, I felt I was a threat to others. My inexperience on the road doesn't make me favorable on the roads. But everyone has to start somewhere correct? The same way new drivers have to continue driving to get better. For me, I chose to stop because I couldn't handle it. That's my choice. But perhaps in future, there could be 'P-plates' for new cyclists the same way there are for new drivers?
I can go on and on but I think you get the drift.
I just hope that one day, the roads here will be friendly for all, truly and truly. If you are a driver and run into an obnoxious cyclist, don't be mad. Stay calm. Treat him/her the way you want to be treated. There are always errant cyclists just like there are errant drivers. Don't be unfair to all just because of a few. If you are a cyclist, be courteous on the roads, signal, indicate, follow the rules. If you want to be treated fairly on the road, ride safely and wear the necessary safety gear. If a driver is mean to you, don't start a road fight. Perhaps, noting down the car plate number and filing a complaint report might be better?
I hope that things will only improve over the years. Meanwhile, to my friends that still ride, be safe, be alive.
As for me, I will continue to run safely (yes runners do get knocked down too) and I think it is time to order my road ID huh?