Sunday, March 23, 2014

Singapore's Cycling Culture: A Fundamental Shift in Thinking (7th January 2014)

Our Singapore Happenings 
7th January 2014

                    Singapore's Cycling Culture: A Fundamental Shift in Thinking

             The price of cars in Singapore is that of a supply and demand issue. With the ever increasing demand for cars amongst Singaporeans and limited road space available, the cost of cars in Singapore will naturally increase. Singaporeans who can afford a car will usually opt for one given its convenience and ease of travel. Another reason for its popularity amongst Singaporeans who can afford it could be the status symbol that comes with owning a car. However the prices make it inaccessible to some or do not make any economic sense to own one to others. Thus, a cheaper and more economically sustainable solution is sought. Two obvious choices are available for use: Public Transport or another form of private transport in the form of cycling. 

                Recently, there has been a renewed interest in Singapore which led to current discussions between the government and civic groups to explore how to cultivate and facilitate a cycling culture in Singapore. This renewed interest may be due to it being seen as a viable alternative means of transport other than the public transport system which currently has its flaws. It is also a healthier option which may be one drawing factor to cycling. It's essentially killing 2 birds with one stone, being able to reach your destination and yet sneak in a cardio workout at the same time. In addition, it is time efficient which many Singaporeans seek. There are talks about how some may want to cycle to work in the future, I am not too sure if the demand for this is there. If someone lives at Yishun, would he/she cycle all the way to work in the CBD? Unless the route to the CBD from these suburban estates are extremely convenient and cuts down travelling time, I don't think people are willing to travel 30 minutes by bicycle to work daily. So I would say demand is more for inter-town rides, ride to town's amenities and to the closest MRT stations/bus terminals. 

                Cycling has become a culture amongst citizens of other countries such as in London. Cycling brings along its benefits such as a healthier lifestyle for individuals and a decrease in carbon footprint for the society in general. More must be done to promote the use of cycling as a means of transport here. There are several barriers/concerns that are preventing more people from taking it up. Firstly, it is the space contention that cyclists face. In the eyes of the pedestrians, these cyclists who share the pavements with them are reckless and dangerous while in the eyes of motorists, these cyclist who share the roads with them are a nuisance and a hindrance. Since cyclists are unwelcomed on both the pavements and the roads, many would choose the former as it is the safer option despite it being illegal. Thus leading to my next point on safety. Safety is a major issue when cycling on public roads. Realistically speaking, a cyclist stands no chance if it experiences a collision with a motorised vehicle. Ask any frequent cyclists and they will tell you that cycling on Singapore’s public road is downright scary with cars not giving way or drivers being impatient with your slow speed. In recent years, you would remember serious road accidents involving cyclists on the road. A prominent case would be the tragic news of 2 boys who were knocked by a cement truck in January 2013. Safety is a major concern for any cyclist and unless we can assure cyclists of their safety while cycling, I doubt we will see a cultural shift towards cycling. Lastly it is the accessibility of bicycles and the convenience of cycling in Singapore.  The current rules and infrastructure in Singapore has its limitations in accommodating cyclists. There are still overheads bridges with no ramps available, forcing cyclists to dismount and physically lift their bicycles up the bridge. Cyclists are also forbidden from riding over overhead bridges. Also, bike parking facilities are limited and only available at high traffic areas (more to be built in the near future). There are also size restrictions and time restrictions for bringing bicycles on board buses and trains. The time allowed are off-peak hours (9.30am - 4.00pm and 8.00pm to the end of passenger service) which is not attractive for individuals who want to cycle to and from work daily, using public transport as an intermediate means.

                If cycling is going to be part of our culture and lifestyle, a fundamental mind-set shift on both the part of the government and its citizens must happen. On the part of the government, one key issue that must be solved is that of the safety of cyclists. Seeing the space constraints on both roads and walking pavements for cyclists, space for cyclists should thus be exclusive for them only. Some have called for a lane to be dedicated purely to cyclists on public roads. This is a huge fundamental shift in power in flavour of the cyclists, the feasibility of this need to be questioned. Some roads in Singapore are already running at max capacity during peak hours, allocating a lane especially for cyclists may cause massive congestions and bottleneck at these roads.  The frequency of usage of this designated road is also yet to be seen, it may actually prove to be an inefficient allocation of resources.  What can be done instead is a small cemented pavement could be laid out, 3 bicycle width, that runs parallel to public roads. This will facilitate cyclists who use public roads to get around to their destinations. Cyclists will abide by rules for pedestrians, sharing only the traffic light crossing.  This is can in additional to the 700 km of bicycle track that the government is building by 2030.

                 To make cycling more accessible and convenient, rules with regards to cycling or transportation of bicycles should be significantly relaxed. Foldable bicycles should be allowed onto trains and buses even on peak hours with specific cabins (maybe first and last) designated for cyclists to bring their bicycles into. Bicycle parking services could also be provided at more spots, near offices and work places which make it convenient for cyclists. And lastly, shower facilities can be provided at all work places for employees to shower before work if they decide to cycle to work.

                The perception of cycling amongst Singaporeans must be changed as well. Making cycling look “cool” should be the main focus of campaigns to encourage more to take up cycling. This campaign has to make Singaporeans see that it makes economic sense to cycle and that the paths and route provided makes cycling a time-efficient means of transport.  

                Change won’t happen overnight, it will take considerable effort from the government to decide and make fundamental changes to facilitate the grooming of this cycling culture in Singapore. Singaporeans are practical people; they will make sense for themselves if cycling is indeed the way to go about Singapore.  

                                                        --THE END--

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