MAYBE because it's the festive season and Santa cares if I've been naughty or nice, but I think I'm getting the hang of this bike commuting thing.
I've been good. In the past week, I haven't skipped a day of riding to work. I think it's slowly growing into a habit, because I feel uncomfortable when I don't do it. Weird, but as they say, humans are creatures of habit.
If Santa was granting wishes though, my wish would be to see more people bike commuting and realising the benefits of it.
Before the naysayers (and there have been quite a few commenting on this blog, which I appreciate for the lively debate it has created) jump the gun, please hear my piece. I know a number of you think we should not be bicycle commuting because it's only going to kill us.
Paradoxically, studies have shown that there is safety in numbers for cyclists (and also pedestrians). Yes, the more people get out on the roads and ride their bikes, the less likely they will be injured in traffic accidents, according to international research reported in Science Daily in September last year.
Studies of cyclists in Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, 14 European countries and 68 Californian cities have proven so.
The reason for safety in numbers, experts say, is because motorists seem to change their behaviour and drive more safely when they see more cyclists and pedestrians around. Also, rising cycling rates mean motorists are more likely to be cyclists, and they are therefore more conscious of and sympathetic towards cyclists.
In fact, studies show that a community that doubles its cycling numbers can expect a one-third drop in the per-cyclist frequency of a crash with a motor vehicle.
Dr Julie Hatfield, an injury expert from the University of New South Wales, calls it a "virtuous cycle".
"And the safer cycling is perceived to be," added Dr Hatfield, "the more people are prepared to cycle."
Another study by the Cyclists Touring Club, the UK's main cycling organisation, supports this safety-in-numbers view. The Guardian reported the results of the study in May this year.
It was found that the safest area to cycle in England was York, where around one in eight commuters cycle to work and 0.1 per cent are badly hurt in accidents each year. Not far down the road, Calderdale, West Yorkshire, where fewer than 1 in 120 commuters bike to work, face a danger level 15 times higher than York.
Further, the average person in Denmark cycles over 10 times further than than the average person in Britain every year, but runs only 20 per cent of the risk being killed.
Chris Peck, policy coordinator of the Cyclists Touring Club, stressed that "even the apparently less safe areas aren't actually unsafe, and that it's still much better for your health to cycle than not to cycle, wherever you live."
You may say things are different in Singapore. Well, I've dug up some figures from the Singapore Police Force to further prove the safety-in-numbers point.
While looking at the following figures, keep in mind that based on anecdotal evidence, I think it's fair to say there are more cyclists on the road now than ever before.
Overall, road accident casualties in Singapore have generally risen in the past 10 years (figure 1). Of course these are absolute figures, and don't take into account that over this time the population of people and vehicles has gone up too.
Focusing on just cycling casualties, figures show the bulk of casualties are slight injuries (figure 2). And the incidence of death (calculated by dividing the number of deaths by the population) in 2007 was lower than that in 1999.
The final point I would like to make is that there are many different types of cyclists around, so don't attempt to umbrella everyone under one title.
There are road cyclists who have good control of their well-maintained bicycles, observe road rules as cars do (like following the flow of traffic and keeping to the left-most side of the lane), signal their intentions by using their hands, wear helmets and have front and rear blinkers for safety.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are the cyclists who are unsteady on their bicycles (which probably do not fit them or have a saddle that is too low or a chain so rusty it cannot move or have no idea how to shift to a lighter gear), have no idea about road rules, ride against the flow of traffic, do not signal, do not wear helmets or have any other safety gear for that matter. Yet, these cyclists still choose to ride on the road, even at night.
I do whatever it takes to keep myself safe on the road. Getting killed is a risk we all take, even crossing the road on foot.
Case in point: The incidence of cycling casualties (killed or injured) was 11.79 per 100,000 people in 2007. The incidence of death in 2008 due to diabetes was 12.52 per 100,000, pneumonia (62.73 per 100,000), ischemic heart disease (89.93 per 100,000) and cancer (131.36 per 100,000).
Update on the past week of my car-free pledge:
- Tuesday, Dec 8 -- Success: Biked to work
- Wednesday, Dec 9 -- Success: Day off from work. Ran errands on bike.
- Thursday, Dec 10 -- Success: Biked to work.
- Friday, Dec 11 -- Success: Biked to work.
- Saturday, Dec 12 -- Failed: On leave. Drove about 7 km in total cos had to lug huge picnic basket. Took cab to and from a dinner ball at a hotel.
- Sunday, Dec 13 -- Failed: Day off from work. Drove about 15 km in total for an errand.
- Monday, Dec 14 -- Success: Biked to work. Took a detour en route to work to run an errand.
- Tuesday, Dec 15 -- Success: Biked to work.
By the numbers (estimated):
CO2 emissions saved to date: 48.67 kg
Extra calories burnt to date: 3,084 cal
Money saved to date: $30.8
Extra time spent travelling to date: 77 minutes