Cyclists injured in North Lantau
The tragic death of Tung Chung resident Colin Robertson on June 5 last year highlighted the ever-present dangers of cycling in Hong Kong.
One year later, the sadness over the death of the popular Scot and leading amateur cyclist turned to anger with a court decision that ostensibly blamed him for his own death, and saw the driver of the truck that hit Colin get off with a small fine and a suspended driver’s licence.
The court decision outraged Colin’s friends and Hong Kong’s cycling community, who see the verdict as a classic case of ‘blame the victim’.
A sad day for cyclists
“The magistrate’s decision shows inherent bias against cyclists using roads they are entitled by law to use, and it reinforces the prejudices of drivers against cyclists – that cyclists don’t matter and that they don’t belong on the road. Roads are for everyone, although the magistrate who ruled in this case doesn’t seem to think so,” says Hong Kong Cycling Alliance chairman Martin Turner.
On March 24 this year, Magistrate Debbie Ng Chung-yee told Tsuen Wan Court: “[The] deceased’s unwise decision of cycling on that road… led to the misfortune.” She also chided the deceased for not abiding by the Transport Department’s road users’ code, saying that cyclists should wear bright, light-coloured or reflective and fluorescent clothing.
The magistrate went on to seemingly excuse the driver, 55-year-old Lam Wing-sang, accepting his argument that the flashing lights of a passing fire engine distracted him, causing his truck to swerve wildly across double white lines and hit Colin. “It is normal for an ordinary driver to suffer from blurred vision following a fire engine that has flashing lights,” she said, ignoring the sensible option that if a driver is suffering from blurred vision, it is his obligation to slow down and stop at the side of the road.
Colin was riding past the DHL Central Asia Hub along the South Perimeter Road near Hong Kong International Airport – a popular spot for road cyclists because of the flat terrain – when Lam’s cargo van collided with him. Lam was convicted of a lesser count of careless driving and fined HK$4,500, and had his licence suspended for one year. He would have faced 10 years in jail if convicted of dangerous driving causing death. Lam has a lengthy record of poor and illegal driving, including one count of careless driving and 10 instances when he was caught breaking the speed limit.
Colin, 39, chief financial officer for brokerage firm CLSA, is survived by his wife Krystina and young son Bean.
The trucks are ridiculous out there
According to the latest Transport Department figures, eight cyclists were killed on roads in Hong Kong in 2013, with 2,549 injured, 518 seriously. All the fatalities and 1,074 of the injuries took place on carriageways. Cycling accidents account for around 11% of all road accidents in Hong Kong.
Lantau is a draw card for road cyclists from all over Hong Kong because it has the rare combination of extensive stretches of flat roads combined with testing hills. The boom in amateur road cycling in Lantau is clashing with extensive development on the island, which has seen significant growth in vehicle traffic, especially trucks and tourist buses.
Shane Early from Lantau Base Camp says the almost uniform complaint from amateur road cyclists coming into his Mui Wo sports shop is the increasing amount of traffic – particularly trucks carrying construction materials – on roads all over Lantau.
“Guys are choosing to go cycling early in the morning to avoid buses and big trucks, not the hot weather. The number of building projects and growing number of people coming to Lantau is putting a big strain on the roads here – and the cyclists are the ones feeling the heat,” says Shane.
Daniel Mullin, a Discovery Bay resident, who organises social rides for the Lantau Buffalos sports club agrees. “Lantau is great for training because of the long stretches of flat roads. The problem is traffic on these roads has grown so much it is getting increasingly dangerous.” Daniel says this is particularly the case along the North Lantau Highway and its service road between Sunny Bay and Tung Chung, which has seen months of ongoing road works and a subsequent increase in heavy truck traffic. He also says the change in regulations to allow taxis into Discovery Bay has exacerbated the traffic problem.
Daniel has felt the pain of the situation – literally. Three-and-a-half years ago he was hit from behind by a car while cycling near Hong Kong Disneyland, fracturing three ribs and his vertebrae, and breaking his wrist. He spent three days in hospital. “It could be a matter of how bad it [the traffic situation] gets before I say, ‘I can’t go out there anymore’,” he says. “That hasn’t happened yet.”
Antony Pringle, who owns Bike Energy Lab, a professional bike-fitters in Discovery Bay, puts a brighter spin on things. “I’ve been cycling around Lantau and DB for years now. Having cycled in many other places around the world, I have to say it’s really not that bad. Traffic is always an issue, but it is anywhere really.
“The advantages we have here is that much of the traffic is professional (due to low personal car ownership), and licences are limited for South Lantau,” Antony adds. “Drivers are generally courteous, though there are exceptions, as is the case everywhere I’ve cycled.”
A new approach to road safety?
Both Shane and Daniel say that the lack of education vehicle drivers have about cyclists’ rights is compounding the danger on Lantau roads. “Cyclists are treated like second-class citizens. They are legally allowed on the road, but many drivers don’t seem to think so,” says Daniel.
Changing attitudes in Hong Kong may not be easy, especially while the official attitude to cycling safety remains sadly out of touch with international practice and Hong Kong’s own needs.
“Hong Kong purports to be a ‘world city’, but there seems to be no recognition of the needs and safety of cyclists,” says Martin. “There are no plans to integrate cycling as part of the transport system the way this is happening in Europe and some US cities.”
Martin points to Singapore as an example for Hong Kong. In the past five years the city-state has followed the lead of cities in the West, by implementing an adequate cycling infrastructure.
A simple fix here in Lantau would be to add width to the shoulders of key roads, like South Perimeter Road. The addition of an extra metre or two of tarmac to allow for safe road cycling would indeed be priceless.
Ride of Silence
On May 20 around 700 Hong Kong cyclists took to the streets of Kowloon in the annual Ride of Silence, in remembrance of Colin Robertson and others killed and injured last year while cycling. The event, which started and finished at the Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower, is held in cities worldwide, and it’s also a reminder that people who ride bikes are legitimate road users who deserve respect and consideration.
Essential safety measures for road cyclists
1 Wear a helmet: While the value of wearing a helmet has been the cause of much debate, one thing is for sure – if you fall off and hit your head, you’re better protected with a helmet than without.
2 Stay as far left as practical: Another obvious but crucial tip. The reality is, if you stay as far to the left as you can, you are much less likely to come into contact with a vehicle.
3 Ensure clear use of hand signals: Whether you are turning a corner, changing lanes, or merely coming to a halt, if you know your hand signals and use them correctly your chances of getting hit will significantly decrease.
4 Make sure you are visible: Day or night, kit yourself out with the appropriate clothing, lighting and reflectors to ensure you are impossible to miss.
5 Make sure your equipment is sound: Give yourself the best chance of staying on your bike by keeping your equipment up to date and serviced.
6 Follow the road rules: As a rule of thumb, act exactly as you would if you were driving a car. Don’t do anything on a bike that is not allowed in a car.
• Bike Energy Lab, www.bike-energy-lab.com
• Hong Kong Cycling Alliance, www.hkcyclingalliance.org
• Lantau Base Camp, www.lantaubasecamp.com