Cyclists and pedestrians can coexist harmoniously in Singapore. Just look at Tampines and Simei.
The recent incident of a three-year-old boy getting run over by a cyclist at a park connector in Sengkang (see report at top of facing page) has reignited the debate on shared path use.
My colleague Gregory and I decided to do an experiment to see if cyclists and pedestrians would keep to their respective paths.
He would walk while I cycled along the park connector from Tampines MRT station to Simei MRT station.
Both Tampines and Simei are cycling towns well-equipped with cycling-friendly infrastructure.
Since it was peak hour on a Thursday evening, I was prepared to be blocked the entire way, unable to cycle more than 10m without stopping.
And perhaps at some point, lie crumpled in a heap after falling off my bicycle while trying to avoid oblivious pedestrians.
These have all happened to me when I was cycling in Punggol.
Instead, save for a woman with a trolley of groceries and a person glued to his phone, it was an uneventful ride.
Wide and clearly marked paths, one for cycling and the other to be shared by everyone, made sure that there was no need for jostling with other pedestrians or cyclists.
Even if people got in the way, they were mindful of being on the cycling path and would move out of the way whenever they heard a bicycle approaching.
It is a stark contrast to the park connectors in Punggol and Sengkang, where I often cycle on weekends.
Families out in full force mean the park connectors there are often filled with all manner of folk.
Some are there to admire the view and others on their scooters.
And then there are the ones who scare me most - speeding cyclists.
The area's proximity to Seletar Airport, a popular stretch for road cyclists, means they are often on the park connectors for a "cool down".
It would be fine if they keep to the speed limit of 15kmh, but many of them often do not.
It is how accidents, like the one at the park connector in Sengkang, happen.
On the pedestrians' part, there are some with a sense of entitlement - sometimes groups of pedestrians taking up the entire path like it belongs to them.
It does not help matters that the lanes for pedestrians and cyclists are not clearly marked.
That means those unfamiliar with the area would not quite know which side to stay on.
For the record, it is much like driving on the roads.
It is good practice to keep left if you are walking or cycling slowly, leaving space on the right for overtaking.
A shift in mindset needs to happen so that the park connectors can be properly utilised.
The space can be shared, if each of us is just a little more gracious.
The people of Tampines have done it, so why can't the rest of us?
Pedestrian: A little more respect please
As far as first impressions go, checking out the situation between cyclists and pedestrians along the Tampines Park Connector did not begin on a positive note.
Barely 30 seconds after starting my walk from Tampines MRT station towards Simei, a cyclist who was busy yakking away on his phone almost swerved into my path and collided with me.
If the rider had been just a tad more careless, I would have needed to leap off the path to avoid the bicycle even though I had seen him coming
I was on the designated pedestrian path on the left hand side when I saw the cyclist veer all the way from the right, his mind undoubtedly absent as he chattered away on his phone.
My colleague Elizabeth and I conducted our experiment at a time where human traffic was supposed to be at its peak, but there was barely anyone around me when this incident took place.
If this was Top Gun, I would definitely have chewed up the cyclist for buzzing the tower - an aviation slang for a jet flying as close to a control tower as possible without causing a collision.
No harm and no foul perhaps, but I was definitely irritated.
But as I continued my walk, the annoyance subsided as I realised that the offending cyclist was just one of a few black sheep who flout the designated lanes for pedestrians and cyclists.
Most cyclists were in control of their bicycles and did not look like they were about to endanger pedestrians.
And yes, there were some pedestrians who were guilty of walking in the cycling lane despite having their own space to safely walk on.
I do not blame either camp, as the sign posts along the way appeared to be sending conflicting messages.
While the two paths were clearly marked out with symbols on the floor, the sign posts said one was a "shared" path.
Also, as someone who used to cycle quite a fair bit, I know that no one goes out on the road intending to hurt anyone.
But I still wish cyclists would be a little more respectful about the space around a pedestrian.
As the cyclists ride past, we want a lot more space between them and us than they might think.
The tension between pedestrians and cyclists is real. But if everyone respects one another's space, we can certainly mitigate it.
This article was first published on January 19, 2016.
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