Commentary: Cycling great for going green but is still a pain in urban Singapore
There has been a recent uptick in interest in cycling but it will take more than an increase in bicycle sales to turn Singapore into a truly bike-friendly country, says this observer.
SINGAPORE: If there is one positive outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic, it could very well be that cycling is finally taking off in Singapore.
Over the past few months, sales of bicycles have been surging and bike-sharing companies are reporting an increase in ridership, some as much as 70 per cent.
As more Singaporeans work from home, with more time to spare on exercise and add to that the impact of the ban on PMDs, which saw food delivery riders switch to bicycles, it is clear there are more cyclists on the road.
Another factor cited by those who are taking up cycling is that they want to avoid more crowded modes of public transport, such as buses and trains.
After all, one can easily cover the distance between a few bus stops or MRT stations on a bike and bike sharing makes this a convenient mode of transport.
During the circuit breaker period, many people also turned to cycling as a form of “socially distant exercise” as it was one of the few activities that was allowed outdoors.
In fact, my social media feed has never been more filled with posts from friends showing off their newly purchased wheels and fitness tracker maps of their biking routes.
But even though an increased interest in cycling in the little red dot has been a long time coming - and could help move the needle towards a car-lite society, which the Government advocates - I can’t help but wonder if this surge will be maintained in the long term.
Or will many of these newfound cycling enthusiasts eventually retire their bikes and give up their bike-sharing subscriptions once it becomes safe to revert to the good old buses and MRTs?
WHY CYCLING IS GREAT
I enjoy cycling. I picked up the habit in the United States where my partner lived for a period of time. When he was based in Silicon Valley, we often preferred to cycle when running small errands over the hassle of driving a car.
There was something charming about biking leisurely to the yoga studio for a class or to the farmers market to pick up fresh groceries.
When we returned to Singapore a couple years ago, I invested in a stylish Tokyobike, thinking that I could replicate this idyllic commute in my daily life.
I live in the southern part of Singapore, where the Tiong Bahru neighborhood as well as VivoCity and the Southern Ridges are well within cycling distance.
Even Orchard Road, I reckon, is no more than a twenty minute ride away. I thought it would be cool to rely on this green mode of transport while fitting in some exercise at the same time.
HURDLES OF BUILT ENVIRONMENT
Unfortunately, reality did not match expectations. I quickly realised cycling was not exactly a practical way of travelling from point A to B. While some neighbourhoods like Tampines are known for being bike friendly, that is not the case in my part of Singapore.
As there are few bike lanes in my area, I either have to cycle with an excess of caution on the road shoulder to avoid drivers - some of whom seem oblivious to the presence of cyclists as they pass by dangerously close - or weave around pedestrians on pedestrian lanes.
Neither option makes cycling very enjoyable.
For those who prefer leisurely rides, there is no doubt there have been efforts to build park connector lanes to allow cyclists easier access to parks. But some of these lanes are simply impractical.
The Kallang Park Connector, which links Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park to Kallang Riverside Park has lovely cycling lanes along most of the stretch.
But there are a few overhead bridges along the way where cyclists have to carry their bikes up the steps of three-storey bridges - wouldn’t it make sense to install ramps where bikes can ride up for a more seamless experience?
Then, there are the cycling lanes that have been partitioned out of walking paths. These often cut past multiple bus stops where the cyclist has to dismount. The alternative is to balance precariously along a razor thin lane between the bus stop and the kerb.
As we all know, there are multiple stops along any given stretch of road, making it close to impossible to cycle efficiently. I have taken to walking or hopping on a train for expediency.
TOWARDS MORE GRACIOUS ROADS
To be sure, there are ongoing efforts to make it easier for cyclists to get around. The newly launched Tengah Park District is touted as Singapore’s first “car-free” town centre where there are plans to build roads underneath ground level to create a safe space for residents to walk and cycle.
Recently, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung also said that plans are underfoot to convert underused road lanes into cycling lanes, in a bid to “re-imagine” Singapore’s road infrastructure.
While there does not seem to be plans to incorporate bike lanes on the roads like those seen in truly bike-friendly cities like Amsterdam or Copenhagen for now, perhaps this option will be considered in the future.
OUR ATTITUDES NEED WORK
Yet, the infrastructure is one thing. The other issue is the attitudes motorists, cyclists, even pedestrians have when it comes to sharing what is a dense population space.
Cyclists on their part should take care to stay close to the side of the road and to observe road rules for everyone’s safety. Some veer dangerously close to middle lanes or don’t give due diligence to buses, who have to share the extreme left lane.
Drivers can make it a point to slow down and give more space when passing cyclists on the road. I have had the unpleasant experience of being horned at multiple times even as I am in the midst of manoeuvring into a better position, or cars coming so close I could feel my bike wobble as they overtake me.
Once a bus whooshed by with so little room to spare, I practically had to stunt hop onto the grass kerb to get out of the way.
And finally, it would make a big difference if pedestrians could take note not to stray onto demarcated bike lanes when they are walking. So it is really an effort on everyone’s part to ensure that each of us have a safe and pleasant journey.
Hopefully with time, people will realise that most cyclists simply wish to get to their destination safely, just like all other commuters out there.
Having had a few rough experiences, I have all but abandoned my Tokyobike, which has recently been relegated to become a glorified handbag display rack.
But I am not giving up on it or my love for cycling just yet and hope I can take it out for a spin someday soon.
Karen Tee is a freelance travel and lifestyle writer.