[Update 6 March 2017: I made a few corrections to the post below.]
Anti-cycling sentiment in Singapore scaled new heights yesterday with the publishing of this letter by the Straits Times, Singapore's largest daily.
One wonders why the sentiment. After all, as a friend of mine said:
There seems to be some misconception that cyclists cause congestions. Next time you are stuck in a jam look for the cyclist causing the jam. You won't be able to. Cars cause jams.
There also seems to be a sense that since cyclists don't pay road taxes, their right to use the roads is somehow diminished. I've heard this point being made ad nauseam but hang on a second: the purpose of road taxes is to fund road investment and maintenance disincentivise the use of vehicles while taking into account their horsepower, specified use (commercial or personal use), engine displacement, fuel type, and so on. (Road investment and maintenance are funded by general tax collections paid by everyone: individual income-earners, businesses, property owners, and so on. Road tax collections would not be adequate for this.) Paying road taxes doesn't confer any road use rights on the tax payer. The roads are public property. Bicycles are used by far fewer people and don't cause the wear and tear on roads that other vehicles do to begin with. This is the same reason pedestrians don't pay road tax every time they cross the road or use the footpath (which I imagine are maintained using the same taxes).
I wrote the following letter to the Straits Times today in response to yesterday's letter.
I refer to the letter, “Curb recreational cycling on roads” dated March 1, 2011.
Even as a motorist myself, I fail to understand Dr Teoh’s argument.
- Is he saying that all road users not proceeding to work or back home must be banned from the roads, presumably including himself?
- If I were to commute to work by MRT instead of by road, would I have the right to order joyriders off the train for my personal comfort?
- The bicycle was invented before the motorcar and cyclists were on the roads before drivers —this right was not accorded recently, as Dr Teoh seems to say— so where would we be if cyclists reversed the argument and began ordering cars off the road?
The logic is unappealing. The roads are public property and no one person has any larger claim on them than any other.
If Dr Teoh were to recognise that he, like all other road users, is part of a system and equally responsible for traffic (or arguably more, since four cyclists occupy less space than a car), and if he were to suggest improvements for the system as a whole, I would support him completely. For example, he could agitate for wider roads, higher ERP charges, more flyovers, public transport improvements, higher fuel surcharges, etc. Targeting just one group is unfair and sets a precedent — tomorrow he may be the target of the next “improvement”.
Even if no such systematic changes are made, when faced with slower traffic of any kind, all road users have choices: overtake safely at an appropriate distance (1.5m is the legal requirement taught at driving schools for all traffic, not just cyclists), wait a few seconds to allow the route to clear, take a different route, commute at a different time, use a different form of transport, etc. I’m sure Dr Teoh exercises one or more of these choices when faced with large vehicles and taxis stopping for passengers — why not cyclists too?
I would thank the Straits Times not to print such inflammatory letters. We have enough accidental deaths on our roads not to add to them by inflaming people’s passions with misguided arguments.
Let's see whether they publish it. I do question their judgement in publishing the original letter to begin with. It's not like we have a paucity of road rage in Singapore. We could learn a lot from Malaysian drivers.
If you would like to express your own views without going to the trouble of writing a letter, please take this Straits Times survey and choose what you think is the best way forward.
If I were to choose just one, my least-worst choice would be "Fund and create a self-governance culture..." but adding drivers to the mix: neither the problem nor the solution lies with cyclists alone surely? Along these lines, one notes with a sigh that the starting assumption of every survey response is that cyclists need to do something to remedy the situation, not road users as a whole (the usual ST survey full of leading questions). Even so, something is better than nothing, I suppose.