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Conflict between cyclists and pedestrians

By Tan Lay Hoon

Views on road cycling have shaped the authorities’ attitude towards and management of off-road cyclists. Adult cyclist education is voluntary, enforcement is tempered and barriers are installed occasionally to prevent cycling access on pedestrian facilities (obstructing pedestrians as well).

Off-road cycle infrastructure facilitates cycling but some of them sharpen cyclist-pedestrian conflict. As many off-road cyclists value convenience and speedy journeys, they seek the best of cyclist and pedestrian travel. Where certain cycle paths do not offer cyclists efficient and/ or seamless travel point to point, many choose to use pedestrian facilities for part or whole of their journeys to overcome the gaps in these inadequate cycle path networks.

Pedestrian-unfriendly cycle facilities also cause off-road cyclists to ride on pedestrian facilities. Parts of PCN cycle paths are built with kerbs. Some bicycle parking bays are built on or next to pedestrian facilities. It is the pedestrians who bear the brunt of the inadequate/ inefficient cycle path networks and pedestrian-unfriendly cycle facilities.

Walking is healthy, green and most basic mode of transportation. Pedestrians have a right to walk safely in public spaces at all times. The authorities focus on pedestrian safety on roads. But pedestrians spend more time walking on pedestrian facilities than roads.

Traffic patterns on pedestrian facilities have changed. Besides cyclists, pedestrians now have to look out for and avoid motorcyclists, users of skates and other fun travel devices on pedestrian facilities. We also have pedestrians in powered wheelchairs and mobility scooters. When moving sideways or turning, a pedestrian must be mindful of non-walkers who may be close behind.

Pedestrians are more vulnerable than cyclists on pedestrian facilities. A cyclist’s reduced speed is still faster than walking pace. When a pedestrian comes face to face with another pedestrian and a cyclist on a narrow pavement, which party is to give way? When a cyclist is blocked by two vulnerable pedestrians ahead, must he/ she trail at walking pace for the remaining journey? Can the cyclist overtake within close proximity (ie. through a narrow gap) if the vulnerable pedestrians feel unsafe? Differences in speed perceptions, safety interpretations and behaviour expectations contribute to tension in pedestrian-cyclist interaction.

When cyclists ride on pedestrian facilities, pedestrians (especially vulnerable ones) are more likely to feel unsafe and fear collision than the cyclists. For vulnerable pedestrians, fears and risks of collision multiply when off-road cyclists ride fast, do not give way and/ or spring suddenly from blind spots on pedestrian facilities. Bicycle-related accidents off road may not kill but they could maim. Falls can be debilitating for seniors. The strain on the pedestrian environment blights the greenness of off-road cycling. Motorcyclists riding on pedestrian facilities further escalate the stress of walking.

Dr Faishal ... i have started “The Daily Walkers” Facebook page to seek support from like-minded individuals to form a pedestrian group to request for a dialogue with the authorities on pedestrian safety on pedestrian facilities. i share other thoughts on off-road cycling on the page.

Cyclists need their own space on or off roads. Cyclists and motorcyclists riding on pedestrian facilities pose safety concerns for pedestrians, particularly vulnerable ones. The authorities need to clarify the level of cyclist-pedestrian conflict off road that they accept as a necessary trade-off for an off-road cycle infrastructure constrained by heavily built-up estates. This will provide a reference point for pedestrians to start a meaningful conversation with the authorities on pedestrian safety off road.

i thank you for your time with this letter.

This letter is sent to Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim who is the Chairman, Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety Committee