Cycling woes in Singapore

Despite the Singaporean government’s vision of a ‘car-lite’ Singapore, the reality is that cycling is failing to gain mainstream traction as a form of transport in Singapore. Here’s why.

Shared bicycles

8 shared-bicycle firms entered Singapore with much fanfare in 2017. However, three firms have struggled to survive and have since left, including ShareBikeSG and the popular oBike.

oBike currently owes users $6.3 million for the refunds of their deposits, and owes town councils more than $118,000 for summons issued over bicycles parked in a haphazard manner.

Furthermore, with its hasty introduction, the phenomenon of shared bikes led to many cases of vandalism and the bikes being scattered in an unsightly manner. There were even reports of bicycles being thrown down from HDB buildings, although for what obscure reason, we can barely guess. Many Singaporeans decried others’ inconsiderate actions.

Regulation for bicycle parking was only implemented after such cases gained notoriety. For example, oBike utilised a credit system that awarded and deducted points based on desirable or inconsiderate behaviour.

Shared bikes left in a messy heap on a grass patch. Photo: Channel NewsAsia

This could be partially due to the service being introduced too quickly, with a lack of public education leading to such acts. Unfortunately, the damage has been done.

Since then, the remaining firms in Singapore have put in effort to stay in the game, with Mobike removing its $49 deposit policy.

The debate over bicycle lanes

Bicycle lanes are ubiquitous in cities such as Amsterdam and Barcelona, according easier accessibility and connectivity to cyclists. However, it is unlikely to ever become a reality in Singapore.

Singapore’s only dedicated lane for cyclists, at Tanah Merah Coast Road.
Photo: Elizabeth Neo

Singapore also had its first on-road cycling lane installed on Tanah Merah Coast Road in 2017. Unfortunately, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has said that it does not plan on constructing any more such lanes.

However, it can look to examples such as New York City. Janette Sadik-Khan became the chief transportation official in 2007, with the aim of installing more bike lanes. However, it was an uphill task as the city was choked with traffic and not bike-friendly at all.

“If you were a cyclist in New York City, it was almost like you were a cast member from Escape from New York. You were dodging cars. [There were] no dedicated lanes. It was dangerous. It was not a place to have any kind of safe commuting experience.”

Sadik-Khan, telling Vox about the challenges of implementing more bike lanes.

A pilot trial (the 9th Avenue pilot) was introduced and was, by many accounts, an immense success. While bicycle volumes increased 65 percent on the corridor, crashes with injuries decreased 48 percent. For businesses and shops along the lane, retail sales increased, outperforming control sites. And the parking-protected design relieved concerns over vehicular access that often fuels anti-bike lane sentiment.

Watch the Vox video on bike lanes here.

However, Singapore, with traffic not as congested as New York’s, and consistently flat terrain, seems to be a viable candidate for bike lanes.

Nonetheless, there have been 120km of bicycle paths have been built (in residential towns as well, such as Punggol and Bishan), along with 300km of park connectors. Not too shabby.

In addition, the LTA first announced that a central area cycling network was in the works in 2017. No completion date has been set, but it aims to improve connectivity in the city centre. Furthermore, residents in Chinatown, Farrer Park, Jalan Besar, Kallang, Lavender and Little India will be able to have “a direct cycling connection to the city-centre”.

Cycling to work is difficult

The lack of showers in office buildings, the humid weather, plus a longer commute time, is unattractive to many Singaporeans. Additionally, the law which states that cyclists and PMD riders cannot exceed 10km on sidewalks may hinder commuting speed.

The already-existing and more popular networks of buses and MRT trains provide air-conditioning, speed, and are convenient.

Therefore, in order to complete the ‘car-lite’ ideal of Singapore, more must be done to make cycling a more convenient and attractive alternative to cars, allowing people to complete last-mile journeys with ease.

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