Barnabé Monnot

Year 4 PhD candidate in Singapore, research in algorithmic game theory and large systems with a data-driven approach.

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Collected thoughts on transportation in Singapore II: Cycling

I wrote haphazard thoughts on cars in Singapore in a previous post, following a week-long workshop on transport policies in the city state. Today I want to talk about cycling in Singapore, based on my personal experience and gathered evidence from conversations and policies.

Cycling

  • Singapore touts that by 2030, it will have over 700km of cycling paths. It is not clear what is meant by “path”, but I am not using “lane” because it seems most of it is not actually on the road. Singapore has a wide network of what is called Park Connectors (PCN) but not all PCNs are created equal. Some are not cycling lanes at all: they consist of a yellow line drawn on the pavement to crudely divide a pedestrian area from a cycling and PMD path. Unsurprisingly, and despite their best attempts at getting cyclists to “dismount and push” or to observe “kindness” codes, the cohabitation is painful and thoroughly inefficient, so much so that serious commuters end up on the road where no protected lane is offered.

  • The PCN is sometimes in a park, such as the amazing East Coast Park PCN, which is lovely to travel on leisurely and see the parked boats at sea, but can be a bit of a pain to reach because it is so out of the way. Then again, the serious commuter will end up on the road.

  • A new attempt is being piloted by LTA, a 10km stretch of semi-protected dedicated road lane for cyclists. It is maybe time for some vocabulary. Dedicated lane refers to a lane that cannot be used by anything other than cyclists, as opposed to mixed lanes that may be used by buses too. Protected lanes have a small separation, perhaps 10cm high, to separate the cycling lane from the road lanes. Research has shown that protected dedicated cycling lanes are the surest way to put people on the road, yet it is clearly not the path that Singapore is keen on taking. The 10km lane is a nice addition, but it is around the airport, so very unlikely to be used by many commuters at all. It was publicized more as a gift to road cyclists than anything else either. One thing I heard is that not enough people cycle to justify using road space for cyclists. This of course discounts the fact that infrastructure comes first: people will cycle once it is built.

  • For proof, I would only direct the attention to the new bike-sharing services that appeared early this year. It is by now a common sight to see commuters hop on one of the bikes to bridge this pesky first-mile last-mile I was talking about in the previous entry. On a related note, I would add that a lot of people complain that because the bikes do not need to be docked as in other cities (e.g. Paris), they can be just left anywhere on the sidewalk. It looks a bit messy, sure. But I cannot count the times that an uptight security guard would come and tell me not to park here or there without providing any clues as to where was an acceptable parking spot. Perhaps the sight of bikes left anywhere will finally get people used to it.

  • Back to the cycling lanes: here is another proof that the road is not where Singapore envisions bikes yet, despite the nuisance and danger to pedestrians and self-defeating concept. A 21km long North-South highway will start construction (visual in the link), innovative because built on two levels. But note the design of the sidewalk, made even more blatantly awkward by the bus stop. Pedestrians have to cross the not-so well delineated cycling lane to reach the walking area, a situation one can only expect to be dangerous when the bus unloads its cargo of passengers. How Singapore manages the risk is by hoping to inculcate some “road sense” to cyclists: leave way to pedestrians, dismount near bus stops (not something I ever observed) and ring the bell to make yourself known. Bringing up this particular example to an LTA employee during the workshop, the response was a mild “well this is how it will be”.

  • Pushing the blame is a common rhetoric here too. On the anecdotal side, I have seen a hit and run between a car and a bicycle, while the cyclist was crossing a green light and had complete priority. On the policy side, as explored in my previous post, cars are rarely told anything that could brush them on the wrong side. Though idling is illegal, road signs will softly say to “Stop idling to reduce pollution”. Parking exits will not warn cars to beware of pedestrians, but pedestrians to beware of cars. PSAs often feature a different group than drivers at fault and needing to be warned of the dangers they cause as shown here. It is not rare to read online that if cyclists want to use the road, they should pay the road tax also described in my previous post. Perhaps this is natural, given the really high price, but to me this constitutes another argument why Singapore should get rid of the ownership cost altogether. Road tax is expected for cars because they take space, congest and pollute, all which is not true of bicycles. There is a large difference between maintaining a three-lane freeway and one protected bike lane, but the benefits offered by decreased congestion largely compensate for the costs.

Careful

  • To give some redeeming last words, I would add that however misguided the solutions are, it is nice to see the problem tackled. There is a healthy cycling community here and arguably the infrastructure is pretty great: roads are well-lit, without potholes and the cycling lanes in parks are often breathtaking. So it is that much of a shame to see that commuters are not getting their end of the bargain and that policies seem inclined to aim for a “regulated free-for-all”, where sidewalks are supposedly large enough for everyone, pedestrians, cyclists and PMD users (not even true everywhere, and definitely not efficient), hoping for different classes of users to observe rules of coexistence in a system that is not designed for that at all.

EDIT 31/07: The New York Times has a nice article about the surge in cyclists in NY and around the US. Safety and convenience appear on top of the concerns for would-be cyclists, with a short discussion of protected lanes. A quote:

“We’ve done a lot of work,” Leah Treat, Portland’s transportation director, said. “Fundamentally, it begins with building safe infrastructure.

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