On arriving by bicycle
By Toh Hsien Min
Those who know me know that when I latch on to something I tend to stick with it, whether it's supporting the same football team for 26 years now, or even a preoccupation with writing that has lasted as long. There are also any number of loyalties to schools or societies, and even what is now the only sport I have, pool, which I've been slowly improving at since picking it up about five years ago. There are reasons though that this is my only sport. One of them is that my ligaments aren't made for impact sports, but the other major reason is that Singapore simply isn't safe enough for what used to be my other sport.
There are few areas in Singapore that aren't safe, given that the government quickly steps in to eliminate any problem spots, whether it's in workplace health and safety or in food safety. Yet this one has been allowed to persist without any concrete actions being taken to mitigate it, even though the issue surfaces periodically in the newspapers - as again in recent weeks. There were 420 fatal and serious road traffic accidents involving cyclists in the first nine months of 2009 alone - that's more than one a day. Considering that cyclists are still less commonly seen on our roads than roadworks, it's an astonishing number.
Cycling used to be a sport I both could do and liked to do. It was a practical, fast and environmentally friendly way of getting around my university, to begin with, and I used to explore the countryside by taking long rides out to villages like Stanton Harcourt and Great and Little Milton, and the dovecote in Minster Lowell, photographed during one of those expeditions, adorns the cover of one of my books. My personal odyssey was making it from Singapore to Hat Yai in Thailand on my own pedal power back in 1999. Imagine cycling close to two thousand kilometres, of which less than forty were in Singapore. And then imagine that the only time I was in serious danger of an accident was in those forty kilometres, when a double-decker SBS bus sideswiped me and forced me to crash over the kerb to keep body and soul together. From that day on, I decided I could not cycle in Singapore again, which I've indeed kept to, not counting Pulau Ubin last year.
I'm not intending a treatise on what the reasons for this extended danger are (even if I'm pretty sure it's because Singaporean drivers are fundamentally selfish). I'm not going to argue on the side of cyclists who ride on pavements - they shouldn't be there. But what's strange about the issue persisting is that there's no reason why the simplest of steps cannot be taken to ensure the safety of cyclists. For one, demarcated cycle lanes would help not only because they would carve out a space for cyclists on the roads, but also because they would legitimise the presence of cyclists there to a motoring public that still holds cyclists in contempt.
This issue of QLRS has some consideration of danger and safety. It is most clearly seen in Jen Crawford's critique of Interlogue 8, which purports to be a little "less safe" in engaging with younger writers; except in her view, the book has turned out to be far too safe. There is also more than a hint of the same criticism in Thow Xin Wei's review of the Reflecting on the Merlion, which suggests that the authors in that anthology don't push the envelope quite enough. Meanwhile, in the creative sections Kai Chai and I have made some unusual choices; in Kai Chai's case, it's to pick a total of seven short stories, which is more than have ever been chosen for one issue by quite a margin, and in mine, it's to pick the shortest poem I've ever used - just three lines long. We've also decided to forego using the essays that have come in, at the risk of this issue having a bit of a lopsided feel to it. Have we got knocked off our seat? Let us know at the usual addresses.QLRS Vol. 9 No. 1 Jan 2010