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The Big Read: Why Singapore has not yet become a paradise for cycling – and it's not just about the heat



SINGAPORE: Since 2016, Mr. Yee Qing Xiang comes pedaling from his home in Bedok to his workplace at Kent Ridge about twice a week.

Not only does it help you stay fit, the 27km bike ride also takes you to your office faster: it takes about 75 minutes compared to 90 minutes of public transportation.

"I love the feeling of freedom on a bicycle. You can go further than walking and of course there is the fitness part, "said the 31-year-old engineer who sets out for his bike trips before dawn around 6:30.

There are some challenges, though.

If it rains, cycling is out. Sometimes, in certain parts of his journey near the Singapore River, where "asphalt gives way to cobblestones," it gets "a bit uneven," Yee said. When his bike has a mechanical failure, he also can not get on public transport . So there's always the question of sharing paths with pedestrians, he added.

Such complaints are common among the cyclists interviewed, though most say the overall experience is enjoyable and fun – and they credit this largely to improvements in Singapore's cycling infrastructure.

WHAT'S IN PLACE

In response to questions, an LTA spokesman said that currently about 120 km of bicycle paths were built, including nine residential cities: Tampines, Sembawang, Changi-Shimei, Pasir Ris, Yishun, Punggol, Jurong Lake District, Bedok and some. parts of Ang Mo Kio.

Along with the more than 300 km of park connectors that were built, Singapore surpasses half of the 700 km mark.

In addition to bike paths marked in red, bicycle wheel ramps were built along stairs, among other things.

It was previously announced that Ang Mo Kio would have a cycling network of 20 km last year. Currently, there is about 4 km of complete cycle network on the property, after the first phase of work.

AMK Cycling

A 2015 artist's impression of the elevated bike lane being built at Ang Mo Kio. (Image: URA)

However, the timeline was extended after the authority saw opportunities to link the cycling network in Ang Mo Kio with those of nearby cities such as Bishan.

The spokesman said: "The cycling network in Bishan will be linked to the network at Ang Mo Kio which had previously been announced … This will increase connectivity to the residents of Bishan by bringing them to amenities such as the Chong Boon market and Ang Mo Kio food center will be accessible via the cycling network in Ang Mo Kio. "

The cycle paths at Ang Mo Kio will be progressively completed in phases this year until 2022, as "more time is required for diversion work in densely built areas". When completed, the cycling network at Ang Mo Kio and Bishan will total about 24 km.

WHAT'S GOING

Over the next five years, the LTA said it would add about 100 km of new building bike lanes and expand existing networks in cities such as Taman Jurong, Bishan, Toa Payoh and Bukit Panjang.

A bid was recently issued to build a 7 km cycling network in Bukit Panjang. Work is expected to begin this year and be completed in 2021.

The LTA spokesman said the authority is also looking to "provide more cycling routes between cities to connect cyclists directly from their homes to the city, such as the Geylang-City and Queenstown-City links that are underway."

To this end, a competition will be launched soon to "study in detail the feasibility and implementation of these connectivity between cities as well as connectivity within the central area," said the spokesman.

The LTA announced for the first time that a central area cycling network was under construction in 2017. No completion date has been set.

However, when new bike paths are built, residents of Chinatown, Farrer Park, Jalan Besar, Kallang, Lavender and Little India will have "a direct bicycle connection to the city center."

"Connectivity to cyclists in the city center will also be greatly enhanced," the spokesman said. "This will make cycling safer and easier for those who prefer cycling as the primary means of travel, especially those who work in the central area."

bicycle paths on the expressway tampines

Artist impression of the cycling bridge over the Tampines Expressway connecting Tampines to Pasir Ris. (Picture: LTA)

STILL A MINORITY PURPOSE

While efforts are being made to improve the connectivity of cycling networks, two-wheeled walking seems to remain a minority pursuit in Singapore.

LTA's active mobility director, Tan Shin Gee, said in reports in 2017 that she hoped that in five to ten years, 4-6% of all trips would be made by bicycle. Currently, the figure is about 1 to 2 percent.

Some common challenges faced by cyclists include the lack of bike bays and showers in the workplace.

A cyclist, a 36-year-old plastic arts teacher who only wanted to be known as Joey, used to pedal from Yishun to his workplace in Bugis about three times a week since 2016.

However, she stopped at the end of last year after being told by management to "not park the bike in the office". She said:

Later I was told it was because it did not look very professional, and I could not find other safe options outside the office to park my road bike.

Then there is the well-known refrain that Singapore's "hot and humid" climate is not conducive to cycling.

The Minister of State for Transport, Janil Puthucheary, had previously spoken out against this mentality, saying it was "a matter of expectation and conditioning."

While rookie cyclist Dave Lai admits he's "too hot to pedal at times," he's grateful to be able to take a shower at his place of work, which makes perspiration and heat less of a problem for him.

The 32-year-old speech therapist started working about two months ago.

On alternate days, he would make the 10-kilometer journey from his home in Lakeside to the National University Hospital, which takes 75 minutes.

While this would take longer than the use of bus and MRT (which is about 45 minutes), he said that cycling helps kill two birds with one stone.

"I can save time eventually, because I do not have to find extra time to jog, or do other sports, and it can reduce my carbon footprint, which is good for the environment."

Lai admitted that the change of lifestyle took some time to get used to. Commitment to change is also "finding the right kind of motivation," he added.

I gave myself extra reinforcements, for example, I started listening to podcasts while cycling, which was useful for me.

Other cyclists also said that weather and bathing conditions, as important factors, are not significant impediments to them, pointing out that passengers may choose to start their travels early to avoid the scorching sun.

LISTEN: The bike-sharing coaster in Singapore.

SECURITY CONCERNS, SHARED SPACES

For these cyclists, the most important considerations are the safety and the need to divide space on pavements and roads.

On designated bicycle lanes, the increased presence of users of personal mobility devices (PMD) and lost pedestrians has become a headache for many cyclists.

Jenn Chen, a 24-year-old marketing executive who goes from her home on Tampines Street 11 to the MRT station in Central Tampines, said she has seen more PMD users on bike paths in the last six months.

While she acknowledges that the roads have to be shared, she said that "e-scooter riders often go at high speed", which can be dangerous for others on the way.

This has led LTA to implement new regulations to "promote greater passenger liability" and encourage "safe sharing" of roads and highways.

As of February 1, cyclists and PMD users will have to ride at speeds of 10 km / h or below trails. They will have to stop and look at vehicles at road junctions. All cyclists will also have to wear helmets when riding on the roads.

However, the new rules seem to have caused a "bikelash" with many cyclists saying they will discourage cycling.

READ: Lessons from the once giant gigantic drop of bicycle sharing, a commentary

It was enough to get some people to postpone cycling to work entirely, with Mr. Yee being one of them. He said:

Previously, when the regulations were a little lighter, it took about an hour and 15 minutes (to get to work). I'm not going to ride the roads on a weekday during rush hour, which adds another 7 kilometers to my route by going through the park's connectors.

"A significant part of my route is on tracks, and limiting the speed to 10km would mean that it would take much longer and as such makes it unsustainable," said Yee, adding that he will no longer ride a bike to work Feb. 1

On the roads, the debate continues over who has the right of way. Joey said,

Cyclists are still considered to be pests on the roads, and there is still this tension between cyclists and drivers.

A recent discussion between a truck driver and a cyclist along the Pasir Ris Road triggered online discussions about who had the right of way.

A viral video of the incident, which occurred about a month ago, has already garnered more than 2.9 million views and about 30,000 shares.

truck driver and stuck cyclist 2

A truck driver and cyclist who suffered a car accident on Saturday (Dec. 22) were arrested by police. (Screengrab: Facebook / Roads.sg)

The driver, Teo Seng Siong, told The Straits Times he was not aware at the time of the incident that cyclists were allowed to pedal two at par. Both the driver and the cyclist, Eric Cheung Hoyu, were arrested and subsequently charged.

Teo was accused of hurting the cyclist carelessly, failing to properly watch over him.

Cheung was accused of violating traffic rules while riding a bicycle in the middle of the leftmost lane, instead of heading to the left end of the road, causing obstruction to faster moving vehicles. He is also accused of committing damage by knocking down the side mirror of Teo's truck with his hand.

Both men will return to court later this month.

Some cyclists worry that such bickering between drivers and cyclists – accentuated on social networks – cast a shadow over road cycling, with cyclists fearing for their safety due to a possible driver reaction.

"Such cases, especially when they explode on social networks, open up situations in the future where cyclists may be scared and unable to walk the roads," Chu said.

TIME TO CHANGE THE RULES?

Francis Chu, co-founder of cycling enthusiasts group Love Cycling SG, felt it was time to adjust some traffic rules and make adjustments to the infrastructure to accommodate the growing presence of cyclists on the road.

"In the last two or three decades, we have seen more cyclists, so we would need to gradually upgrade some traffic rules," said Chu, a businessman.

Taking a leaf from the Taipei experience, he suggests that there could be a "slow lane," where speed limits on the left lanes on multi-lane roads could be reduced to 40km, to reduce the speed difference between two-wheeled vehicles and cars.

In the capital of Taiwan, advanced bicycle boxes or "safety boxes" are marked in front of the cars on the roads to allow cyclists to have a few seconds of advantage before proceeding.

However, transportation experts like Dr. Park Byung Joon of the University of Singapore's Social Sciences (SUSS) believe that demarcating a slower lane could create "bottlenecks" in traffic, not just along a private road, but subsequent years.

With Singapore being a land-scarce city, setting up safety boxes may also not be a viable option, he noted.

In May 2017, the LTA completed improvements along Bencoolen Street, including the recovery of the lane to a bike lane and a covered pedestrian walkway.

However, the area is too small to form a proper cycling network, resulting in low utilization of the bike path, according to a report published by the Center for Livable Cities last year which examined existing road and street projects.

Singapore also had its first road cycling track set up on the Tanah Merah Coast Road in 2017. The road cycling lane has raised the profile currency markings to demarcate it from the road, but is not protected from heavy vehicles that the route.

Cycle route Tanah Merah Coast Rd

A dedicated bike path on Tanah Merah Coast Road. (Photo: Elizabeth Neo)

The LTA said it has no plans to build more cycling tracks on the road elsewhere.

In some European and American cities, bicycles are allowed on subway trains and public buses. In Singapore, folding bikes – not more than 120cm by 70cm by 40cm – can be taken aboard public transport.

To make cycling a more attractive option for passengers, some cyclists have suggested fixing bicycle racks on public buses so that it would be more convenient for them to use a bicycle for first and last mile trips.

In Los Angeles, for example, most buses are equipped with bike stands.

Experts, however, warn that although such improvements can be experienced, security issues can arise. They also questioned whether such shelves – which meant that cyclists would need time to assemble and dismantle their bikes – were feasible during peak times.

THE PROMISE OF SHARED BIKES

In addition to infrastructure improvements and rule review, introducing shared bicycles could persuade more people to start cycling in Singapore – although bicycle-sharing companies are going through a challenging time, especially for those who have expanded greatly quickly.

In 2016, authorities considered bicycles without a dock as a possible solution to improve first and last mile connectivity and encourage cycling for short trips, and sought out bicycle sharing operators such as theBike, ofo and Mobike to fill the niche.

A recreational cyclist who just wanted to be known as Tay, 29, said he got his mother to try out shared bikes last year. "I used this to encourage her to take the cycling … and eventually she went to get her own bike," he said.

The administrative executive, who has his own bicycle, however, noted that the concept of shared bikes would only help "in a small way" to encourage cycling culture.

The culture or lifestyle of cycling … is much bigger than just crossing the last mile or going to the market.

Experts say it can be "difficult" to measure how integrated the shared bikes are to cycling as a means of transportation.

SUSS transport economist Walter Theseira said that while the presence of shared bicycles increases the number of individual trips made by cyclists, it is still unclear whether this will lead to an increase in the adoption of cycling as a whole, or whether more people are integrating cycling as part of their travels.

READ: oBike closure, a cautionary tale about poorly designed business ideas, a commentary

Dr. Park said that while bicycle-sharing companies actually encouraged cycling because of its "low prices" and "the fact that it could be parked anywhere," such benefits did not last long due to questions about the viability of companies operating on bicycles.

The concept of bicycle sharing has had an impact last year amid reports of bicycles being dumped or parked indiscriminately and bicycle sharing companies facing financial difficulties.

Bikes Obike Mobike Ofo

Bikes from oBike, ofo and Mobike in Singapore. (Photo: Mubin Saadat)

NO SOFT RIDE IN THE CITY DENSA

Despite efforts to make cycling more common here, one of the biggest obstacles that can not be eliminated is the high population density of Singapore, experts said.

Singapore had a population density of about 7, 796 people per km² last year. That is about 1.5 times that of Amsterdam, for example, which has a population density of 4,908 inhabitants per km2.

Dr. Park said: "While all other factors, such as hot weather, come into play at the end of the day, Singapore is an extremely dense city. If our population is already so dense, what will we do when each of us has bicycles? "

He noted that "existing roads are already close to saturation points, especially during peak morning and night periods," while buses and trains are already "crowded", so it can be difficult to accommodate bicycles on public transport.

Given the density of the city, there is a certain limit to cycling.

Dr Theseira agreed: "Road transport capacity plays a major role and there is not much to do to make cycling safer on congested roads at rush hour unless you are willing to build bike paths or dedicated paths. "

Modeling cycle route

Virtual model highlighting a new bike path in Teck Ghee. (Photo: NRF, SLA, GovTech, Dassault Systèmes)

In addition, cycling as a means of transport may not always be the most attractive option when compared to other modes over long distances.

Dr. Park noted that MRT buses and trains already offer "great connectivity" to the vast majority of passengers here.

Theseira said: "The physical reality of cycling, however, is that it takes more time and energy to travel a certain distance than motorized transportation, all the more equal.

"Cycling therefore has difficulty being competitive with motorized transport when traveling distances are greater or traffic is well managed."


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