Opinion

Why is the Government Not Doing Enough to Promote Alternative Means of Transport in Singapore?

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Peter Lin

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In our little urban island, cycling is like sex. It’s enjoyable, it causes you to sweat and, if you’re into that kind of thing, two people can ride simultaneously. But like sex in Singapore, not everyone is happy when you cycle in public.

It can also be pretty dangerous. Cycle on the road and motorists are the ones putting you in danger. Cycle on the sidewalk and you’re a danger to pedestrians. In fact, just this month, a cyclist was jailed for knocking down an elderly pedestrian. So clearly there is a legal precedent for dangerous cycling, but shouldn’t the government be doing more about this?

 

We’re not saying the government isn’t doing anything…

Back in 2013, as part of the Land Transport Master Plan, we were given a glimpse into how transport in Singapore would look like by 2030. Part of that report was a National Cycling Plan, which includes adding to the island-wide cycling path network, with a goal of 190 km by 2020, and over 700 km by 2030. The goal is to encourage cycling around your housing estate through intra-town cycling networks, and even cycling round the island via the proposed Round Island Route.

The idea of all this is to encourage a culture that is good for our health and our environment, by reducing our reliance on cars and even public transport. Right now, not surprisingly, only 1% of all trips in Singapore are done on bicycles.

 

… but are they doing enough?

Every time a cyclist is in the news, this debate comes up again. It could be due to an accident on the sidewalk or on the roads, or video evidence of yet another cyclist who defies all safety precautions (and logic!) and acting as if they have the same right to the road as other motorists.

No matter how serious the situation, the same arguments tend to come up – cycling in Singapore isn’t as convenient as it should be. More can also be done to improve the safety of cyclists.

 

We can’t wait for the future, we need to start making changes now.

While waiting for the proposed National Cycling Plan to take shape, more can be done right now to reduce our reliance on cars and public transport. Let’s look at 3 changes that can be implemented immediately to improve the safety and convenience of alternative means of transport:

 

1. Implement cycling lanes on roads

Now, we’re aware that National Cycling Plan is going to introduce more cycling paths that allow us to cycle around the island. It’s a good initiative, but we can’t be waiting another 15 years before they’re ready. If the idea is to convince us to exchange our cars for bicycles, then the stop gap measure needs to be the implementation of cycling lanes on roads. This is something we can implement without too much effort.

Just in case you didn’t know – it’s actually against the law to cycle on sidewalks in Singapore. Over the past five years, a total of 3,500 summonses were given out for cycling on footpaths. That’s an average of two cyclists A DAY. Of course, anyone that’s had to walk anywhere in Singapore would know that this is a ridiculously low number.

Legally, all cyclists have to ride on the left side of the road. And this is where it becomes hilarious – they’re expected to ride “in such a manner as not to obstruct vehicles moving at a faster speed”. Or in other words – GET AWAY FROM JUST ABOUT EVERYONE ELSE ON THE ROAD. How are cyclists expected to follow the law in a practical manner? Let’s not forget who else is supposed to be on the left side of the road – buses and other heavy vehicles! There’s no way cyclists can feel safe next to these road monsters.

With their own dedicated lane, cyclists might feel more comfortable staying on the road and not relying on the sidewalks for their own safety. Such lanes have already been implemented to positive results in the UK, US and in Australia.

 

2. Stop “banning” alternative modes of transport

Okay, we’ve been talking about bicycles, but let’s not forget it’s already 2015. This is the year the hoverboard was invented, after all. But while waiting for hoverboards to become economically sound investments, and not the stuff of nerd wet dreams, we do have other alternatives like motorised bicycles and electronic skate scooters. These are excellent options to consider for long commutes, especially since they can reach speeds of 25 km/h and can travel some 35 metres on a single 2-hour charge.

Except, you know, they’re banned.

Well, that’s not entirely true. These personal vehicles are allowed in Singapore, but where they can be used is restricted. And when we say restricted, we mean – no roads, no pavements, not even park connectors. Legally speaking, you’re only allowed to ride these vehicles “on private premises”.

COME ON LAH.

The reasoning for this ban is safety, of course, but that’s extremely strange, especially when you consider that bicycles aren’t restricted by this ban. In some cases, the kind of bicycles you see on roads are larger and are capable of higher speeds than these personal electric vehicles.

Lifting the restrictions on these alternative modes of transport would definitely go a long way in reducing the reliance on cars.

 

3. A greater connectivity between modes of public transport

Why do we drive cars? Because it’s convenient. Because a car can supposedly get us from point A to point B without the hassle of waiting, feeling like a sardine in a can and worse of all, breakdowns. At least, that’s the ideal. In Singapore, despite a ridiculously high price for cars (no thanks to COE), we still find ourselves like sardines in a can when we get stuck in traffic jams during peak hours.

What would convince me to stop driving? If public transport in Singapore were more convenient. Now, before you start telling me that I should be thankful that the subway in other countries break down more often than ours, the decision I’m trying to make here is choosing the more convenient option of travel. Here’s an example of what I mean:

Say I take have to take a bus from my house to the LRT station at Bukit Panjang, and then take another bus from the Circle Line station to my workplace. I could be looking at almost 25 minutes of waiting time! Despite the high prices, I might still be more tempted to go with a car.

Ultimately, when the National Cycling Plan is implemented in 2030, we should expect cyclists to be able to get from Toa Payoh or Marine Parade towns to Marina Bay in 30 minutes. But in the meantime, the government needs to find ways to start encouraging cyclists now.

 

What do you think the Government can do to promote alternative means of transport? We want to hear your views.

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Peter Lin

I am the poster boy for reinventing one's self. I've been a broadcast journalist, technical writer, banking customer service officer and a Catholic friar. My life experiences have made me the most cynical idealist you'll ever meet, which is why I'm also the co-founder of a local pop culture website. I believe ignorance is not bliss, and that money is the root of all evil only if you allow it to be.

  • shu

    I drive but I don’t cycle and every time i see a cyclist i am always worried for them. Could the government make it a national campaign starting with the young because ultimately they may take up riding in future and its good to start from young with good habits.

    They can have videos screen in schools after their year end exam. Also if its a family activity they can show the adults/parents the right way. We can also take this opportunity to show them the benefit of cycling from fitness to environmental. No point having all the infrastructure we need to think long time. There seem to be a lot of confusion as to who have right of way.

    With some common rules cyclist can have a pleasant ride. There is less second guessing and misunderstanding.

    • thunder storm

      Its good to see drivers who do not cycle holding a more fair view on cycling.
      A pedestrian today may have no desire or need to cycle. So, they may, by nature of human selfishness, condemn cycling.

      But there are many practical reasons why people cycle. It helps elderlies get around as their joints have aged. Everyone will become like that. But by human nature of selfishness, a young person will not think in their shoes.

      Every mode of transport can have accidents. Even living in your house can have accidents. Do you ban the house?

      Safety is not about speed or power of engine but self discipline. Why is lambo not banned? Its far more faster and powerful than a ebike. Why subject a ebike rider to low speed comparatively with a car and the regulation includes that cyclists should cycle on the roads? Is it not a known fact that slow vehicles on the road can create accidents?

      Its makes more sense for cyclists to ride on the pedetrian walks than on the roads. Else, motorcycles need to take the lead first and be speed limited to 90km/h which is the legal speed limit of singapore. This can be easily achieved with technology. Why is this not done? Bigger, faster, more dangerous vehicles are not speed limited at the machine level but ebikes is ? Come on, singaporeans. You are smarter than that.