Photo: Alan Grant
On the surface, Singapore is a great place to ride. Our roads are smooth and compared to most other countries, pot-hole free. If you do come across the odd breach in the bitumen, simply call the LTA on 1 800-225 5582 providing the nearest lamppost number and the offending hole will be fixed before you know it.
However, look beneath the surface and these smooth roads aren’t the most cyclist-friendly thoroughfares in the world. This is partly down to the ‘me-first’ attitude of many motorists, but the authorities could also be apportioned with some of the blame … and the cyclists themselves aren’t faultless either.
Cycling on the road (as opposed to the pavement) is not only permitted, it’s a legal requirement as, in general it’s illegal to ride on the pavement. Alas, some car, truck and bus drivers don’t seem inclined to share the streets with the growing pedal-powered brigade, the result being that many cyclists are wary of riding on the roads for fear of being buzzed, honked at or, worse still, hit by a ton of metal. Vitriol and scary threats against cyclists from netizens on Stomp and other online portals certainly don’t help the situation.
What can be done?
Firstly, attitudes need to change. Angry motorists need to accept that cyclists are here to stay so instead of acting threateningly, be more courteous to their fellow road users. OCBC, which sponsors the massively successful annual OCBC Cycle Singapore Festival, runs a ‘1.5 Metres Matters’ campaign encouraging drivers to give cyclists more room. In many developed countries, this is law. Obviously it’s impossible to give 1.5-metres on busy city roads, but when out in the quieter suburban areas surely it’s not too much to expect.
Cyclists can do their bit to improve relations by obeying the rules of the road. Running red lights is sure to raise the ire of motorists waiting patiently for green, and large groups of riders hogging a whole lane can also cause tempers to flare. Riding two abreast in the left hand portion of the left lane is actually permitted and is regarded as a safety measure (it increases visibility), but common sense must prevail. If the traffic is busy then moving into a single file formation allows cars to pass safely.
Legislation would help too. Bike lanes are the obvious answer. We’re not talking about bike paths, but dedicated lanes on the tarmac, especially through the city. More and more people are choosing to commute by bike and this surely meets with the government’s aim of reducing the amount of vehicular traffic. A lack of space on already crowded roads is the usual naysayer’s response but if New York City can find the room to build bike lanes in Manhattan then surely Singapore can at least explore the possibility. The bike lanes don’t have to be on every main thoroughfare, just pick certain routes.
Measures that could be implemented more quickly are the creation of bike boxes and cyclist-only traffic signals. The former allow cyclists to sit ahead of cars at traffic lights, thus improving their visibility and providing a head start when the lights change. Cyclist-only traffic signals serve the same purpose. Similar to the bus-only traffic signals in operation in certain areas of our city, the lights change three or four seconds ahead of the main green light.
Allowing all bikes, and not just the foldable variety, onto the MRT would also encourage more cycling commuters. Rush-hour restrictions, such as only allowing access to the front and end carriages, could be put in place.
Some things are already being done. The LTA and the Safe Cycling Task Force jointly run a scheme that has seen signs erected alerting motorists along some quieter stretches of road popular with cyclists. These are great, but it’s ironic that one such area where these signs are very prominent, the Changi Coastal Road, has become a dangerous hotspot. In May, a young Singaporean rider was killed in broad daylight by an errant truck driver, the latest in a long line of vehicle-bike accidents on the road.
But let’s get back to the positives.
Singapore’s network of park connectors and their bike lanes are nothing short of outstanding and are perfect for families, riders just out to keep fit or for those looking to explore the island on two wheels. The network is not quite seamless yet but a fully connected system is on the cards meaning in the not-too-distant future it will be possible to ride right round Singapore free from the dangers of the road.
Urban areas are also getting in on the act. Under the National Cycling Plan seven ‘cycling towns’ ― Bedok, Changi-Simei, Pasir Ris, Sembawang, Taman Jurong, Tampines and Yishun ― already have bike paths connecting key intra-town points.
Also read: Singapore’s secret cycling spots
Off road, mountain bikers have it fairly good here too. The trails in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Kent Ridge Park, being fairly technical in places, provide a true test for the more experienced riders, but are still accessible to beginners. Tampines Bike Park is also for all-comers and Pulau Ubin has a wide selection of trails catering to all skill levels.
There is also a thriving road racing scene here in Singapore. But aside from the OCBC Cycle Singapore Festival and the National Championships, it looks like there will be no other official bike races in 2012. Racing enthusiasts are forced to head over the Causeway into Malaysia or take a ferry to Bintan for ‘local’ races. Here’s hoping the Singapore Cycling Federation can do more to help grow the sport here.
Cycling is here to stay in Singapore. There are well over a hundred bike shops on our island, catering for everything from cheap, simple shopping bikes to high-end racing machines, and more outlets seem to spring up every month. It’s a healthy, non-impact form of exercise and for every person commuting on a bike that’s one less person driving a car or taking a fossil-fueled form of public transport. We just have to make sure that the movement towards pedal power stays positive.
Alan Grant is a freelance editor/writer based in Singapore and his biggest passions in life are eating and cycling. His longest ride to date was this June's Trans Malaysia Express where he and 14 friends covered 800km from the Thai-Malaysia border to Singapore in just 43 hours. He has placed his journalistic hat down at such legendary Singaporean spots such as The Straits Times and I-S Magazine as well as TimeOut Singapore, Discovery Channel Magazine and Spin Magazine.