Making Cycling a Viable Commuting Option in Singapore
Most developed and crowded cities are trying to encourage cycling as a mode of transport so as to save scarce space and to more efficiently manage people-flows. Cycling is the second most space efficient form of transport, edging just ahead of motorcycles and falling behind mass public transport options such as busses and MRTs. But cycling in Singapore is difficult due to the inherent problems of being a very accessible and versatile option.
Cyclists in Singapore have to use bike paths and the road instead of the pavement. Cycling on the pavement is usually illegal but the law allows for many exceptions because of the insufficient number of bike paths (you can almost never commute to your destination entirely by bike paths). Cycling on the pavement is dangerous for both the cyclist and pedestrians because of the large difference in speeds. While cycling on the road is less dangerous, a high percentage of accidents (if they happen) result in fatalities. Cyclists are stuck between a rock and hard place. Here are just some of the problems:
- Illegal. Large difference in speeds.
- Pedestrians are not looking at where they are going especially with the popularity of smart phones. Many have earphones plugged in and they cannot hear a bike’s bell.
- Large varying group of users including vulnerable groups such as the elderly and young who do not expect a 15-20km/h bike in their direction.
- Many obstacles which slows down the ride tremendously. Ride is also bumpy if you use a hard tail bike.
- Accidents occur most frequently here.
- Few in number. Most paths are for recreational purposes.
- Difficult to expand network because original transportation plans did not provide space for bike paths. Most bike paths end up being pretty weird because they were clearly afterthought implementations.
- Pedestrians prefer walking on bike paths rather than on walking paths especially when the paths are next to each other. This could be because bike paths are wider but this negates the purpose of a bike path. A large number of pedestrians do not care about the bike/pedestrian path differentiation.
- Most efficient and reliable way to commute but narrow lanes make sharing space with motorists difficult.
- Some cyclists are clearly not road ready because there is no license required to use the road unlike motorists. Most do not signal, some do not obey traffic rules as there are no penalties.
- Varying cyclist skills makes it difficult for motorists to estimate when they can overtake, etc. Some cyclists confuse motorists with inconsistent speeds, sudden turns and even a wobbly ride posture.
- Some motorists are unhappy about sharing the road with a user that would slow them down even though they do not need a license, pay road related taxes, etc.
- Fewer accidents but injuries are more serious and have a higher percentage of fatalities.
The list above are just a few of the issues I have observed and experienced over the years. Policy makers are thinking about building an extensive bike path network but the lack of space simply means that this would not materialise. We should go for the second best option which is to share the roads between cyclists and motorists with the following changes:
- Cyclists should be licensed. A cyclist should at least be able to maintain a constant speed throughout the commute, understand and use hand signals, know the rules of the road and how to ride defensively. A cyclist should also be physically fit enough to be cycling alongside motor vehicles. This includes having good vision, etc.
- Cyclists should fall under the same penalties if they fail to obey traffic rules. Penalties for not following cycling rules (such have not having the right lights, etc) must be enforced for the safety of both cyclists and motorists.
- Bicycles must be certified road ready. This includes ensuring that the bike undergoes annual checks at local bike shops. Most responsible cyclists already do this but many cyclists do not fall under the responsible category.
- The left most lane should be expanded by about a metre (doable on most roads) to give cyclists more space. This additional space should be marked out as a bike lane. This is not to be confused with bike paths which are mostly recreational in nature and does not require licensing. This is just a simple expansion of the “double yellow line” space that is often used by cyclists on the road currently.
- Motorists should be educated on how to deal with cyclists and the rules regarding the expanded left lane / bike lane. Penalties against drivers for failing to share the road fairly and safely should be implemented.
The suggestions above may seem onerous but they are required to keep the roads safe. There is no use having strict guidelines for motorists and then allowing others to use the roads without the same stringent requirements. Cyclists are in many ways similar to motorist minus the motorised vehicle and a carbon footprint.
Cycling can be turned into a viable form of transport and it is only a question of good planning and execution to make this happen in Singapore.