Opinion

Will Singapore Ever Become a Nation of Cyclists?

bicycle singapore

Joanne Poh

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A few years ago, when faced with the prospect of cycling, Singaporeans would always cite the scorching weather as a reason why it was not a viable transportation option. Fast forward a few years, and it seems the discomfort of having to rely on an overcrowded public transport system and the frequency of breakdowns have convinced many that even baking under the hot sun on a bicycle is preferable to taking the bus and MRT.

The fact that cycling can be even faster than taking public transport if your journey gets slowed down by having to take feeder buses is another reason to leave your EZ-Link card at home.

In fact, there’s been a cycling boom of sorts, with many Singaporeans taking advantage of the expanded cycling networks and the possibility of taking folding bikes on the MRT to make their daily commutes on bicycles. Here are three ways switching to cycling will benefit you and the community.

 

Cycling can ease the burden on public transport

Right now, the reason public transport is so darned overcrowded is simply because people have no other options. Cars are expensive as hell and many households simply can’t afford them. Taking taxis every day is also out of reach for most people, as relying on them twice a day every day could easily add up to well over $1,000 a month.

On top of that, Singapore isn’t as walkable city as it could be. It’s not just about the weather, either. Rather, the landscape favours roads to the detriment of sidewalks.

If more people took up cycling, the burden on the public transport system would be eased, and I think it’s safe to say that would make almost everyone in the country happier.

 

Health benefits

Singaporeans are quite unhealthy from a lifestyle point of view. Thanks to long working hours and a childhood that prioritises studies over play, lack of exercise is a bigger killer than smoking here.

We’re #2 in the world in terms of the proportion of folks with diabeteslack  of exercise is one of the biggest causes of Type 2 diabetes. On top of that, people are also getting fatter, and experts predict that a whopping 34% of our current 24 to 35 year olds could find themselves diabetic by the age of 65.

It’s easy to nag someone about making time to exercise, but try telling that to a Singaporean who already spends 10 hours at work and 2 hours commuting back and forth that he’s got to use what little free time he has left to exercise and see what he says. The most fail-proof way to remedy that is to replace the 2 hour commute with 2 hours of cycling.

 

Improved first and last mile connectivity

At present, cycling all the way to work isn’t an option for many Singaporeans.

Even those who live less than 10km away from their work places might be hampered by inadequate cycling infrastructure. The lack of cycling paths makes riding on roads scary, and as riding on sidewalks is still illegal, many cyclists are forced to choose between breaking the law and risking their lives.

However, one way almost everyone can benefit is to shorten their journey to the MRT station by cycling, and thereby enjoy better first-and-last-mile connectivity.

No matter how wonderful the MRT network might be, if you’re forced to wait for a feeder bus in order to get to the closest station, your journey becomes much longer and more painful. With a bicycle, such a commute can instantly become less frustrating.

The government seems to be aware of the need for better first-and-last-mile connectivity, so let’s remain hopeful that they improve cycling infrastructure so people can shorten their commute to and from the MRT station on their bicycles.

 

What must be done?

At present, it appears that cycling’s popularity has surged ahead of the actual infrastructure available to cyclists. While the expanded park connector network is an encouraging improvement, there’s a lot more that can be done to stop people from feeling like they could be knocked down by a car any minute. Here are some possibilities:

  • Create bike paths or allow cyclists to ride on sidewalks: Right now, the biggest obstacle facing cyclists is the fact that roads are dangerous as hell, since drivers seem to think all roads are their grandfathers’. In order to increase safety, the government could find a way to create bike paths by dividing up existing road or sidewalk space, failing which cycling could be allowed on sidewalks. Of course, for the latter to work, the population would have to undergo rigorous education in order to drill into their heads how to safely share sidewalks with cyclists.
  • Do more to combat bike theft: It’s an embarrassment that despite our supposedly low crime rate, bike theft is so pervasive here. An average of 100 bicycles are stolen each month, for crying out loud. The Singapore government knows better than anyone else how to be Big Brother. Come on, we already have CCTV cameras everywhere, and people get hanged for drug trafficking. Surely something can be done to lower instances of bike theft.
  • Allow bicycles on public transportation: While folding bikes conforming to certain dimensions are allowed in trains and buses, the rules still exclude the vast majority of bicycles. Since the areas around MRT stations are a hotbed of theft, those without those folding bikes with tiny wheels don’t have too many options.
  • Boost accessibility to shower facilities: We have to accept the fact that our climate is hot as hell. If people are going to be encouraged to cycle, making shower facilities available at workplaces or even in commercial spaces would go a long way towards encouraging hygiene-conscious people to take up cycling.

Would you consider making cycling your main mode of transport? Tell us why or why not in the comments!

Image Credit: Thomas Timlen

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.

  • bytehala

    As someone who bikes to work everyday, I can totally relate to everything you just wrote. In my daily commute, I have to deal with plants eating half the sidewalk, pedestrians walking on the PCN designated bike path, and said pedestrians wearing earphones.

    My friend got hit and run by a cab on his way home, good thing he only suffered minor scrapes. All drivers should be loaned a bicycle once a month and required to bike a part of their commute to work so they could realize how scary it is when cars drive by mere centimeters from you.

    As for showers, a big YES. The government could partner up with gyms and provide registered cyclists with a shower pass for a minimal fee, or something similar to HPB’s Sunrise in the City.

  • Damien Lim

    Given that the cyclists in my area can’t obey a simple sign to push their bikes across a pedestrian bridge, no thank you very much. Maybe when they don’t act like thugs on sidewalk. At least drivers stops for pedestrians at pedestrian crossings.

  • Pomoz

    As an expat who has ridden bikes in other large cities such as Sydney and Auckland, I was very disappointed to find Singapore has an almost pathological hatred of bikes. It seems like the government actually would prefer there were no bikes at all. Virtually no bike paths where people live, so commuting by bike is almost impossible. No bikes on the MRT!

    Without proper bike paths, riding on the road is an intimidating experience that would deter all but the most determined riders. Singaporean drivers don’t like to yield to bikes and tend to crowd them out. I can’t say I blame them having paid $65k for COE they probably feel entitled to use all the road. Nevertheless, creating a bike culture is a fantastic opportunity that has been wasted, but it is not too late. To make Singapore a much healthier city, as you suggested, bike paths could be constructed to link the main areas into where people work. Singapore is relatively flat so it wouldn’t be too strenuous for most people to ride 10-15km at a gentle pace. Unrealistic to expect the average person to ride in from Woodlands or Jurong, but anybody in a 10 -15km radius of the CBD could ride to work if bike paths were available.