All text and images copyright of LTA (2005) and used with permission. 'The Journey' by Ilsa Sharp is published by SNP International Publishing and is available at all good bookstores.
Francis Chu is a cycling evangelist. His decision to abandon his car and to cycle to work is based on his thorough research into the pros and cons. He offers some convincing arguments on how cycling in Singapore makes practical sense, even within the hard-nosed frame of reference used by many transport planners.
For Francis, the biggest factor was health. Cycling improved his fitness dramatically - "Even after just a couple of weeks of cycling, I felt more energetic," he recalls. As a Senior Consultant for Product Design at Philips Design, he knew that modern lifestyles, including the combination of the car with automation and Information Technology, meant that most office workers hardly needed to move much. This lack of exercise, arising from the loss of simple daily tasks, lies at the heart of modern health trends.
Worldwide, transport planners increasingly are aware that there is an economic cost to the rising levels of ailments linked with inactivity.
Francis was first inspired by a sojourn in Holland, possibly the world's leading cycling nation. He also cites the striking turnaround in London following the British Government's commitment to a National Cycling Strategy aimed at quadrupling the number of bicycle trips by 2012.
Significantly, the British Government has signaled that it expects members of the health industry to set an example with their own transport choices.
Francis cycles at about 8:15 a.m. every morning from his Paya Lebar home to Toa Payoh, a journey of about 35 minutes. His workplace provides simple shower cubicles, which helps him to freshen up before starting work. On his return, he cycles to Toa Payoh MRT Station, pushes his single-speed folding bicycle onto the train with him, and then on arrival at Paya Lebar, cycles five minutes from the station to his home.
Viewing the issue with a designer's eyes, Francis reckons that cycling in Singapore would be a lot easier if there were a rethink on road design and if general 'traffic calming' principles were applied. As with the issue of the disabled boarding buses, it's just a matter of society moving a little slower and safer, for a better quality of life.
"Road design here has prioritized cars," says Francis,
"But if you just closed one lane of traffic, immediately the perception of speed is different. Drivers tend to drive faster when they are on a wide, open road; otherwise they feel slow. If a road is narrower, drivers feel everything is moving much faster and tend to slow down. That's safer for everybody, including pedestrians and cyclists. It's the road design that is dangerous, not driver behavior. The planners need to balance the rights of pedestrians and cyclists with those of motorists, and slow down traffic where needed."
Francis also points out that MRT usage would probably go up if there were more cycling; "At the moment, the capture zone' for users of an MRT station is about 800 meters, or what you can walk in 10 minutes, but once you include cyclists, (hat capture radius enlarges by maybe live times." Here are Francis' answers to some commonly voiced concerns about cycling in Singapore:
IT'S TOO DANGEROUS
I cycle about one-third of the time on the pavement, one- third on quiet roads and one-third on park connectors.
From recent debates in Parliament, it looks as though the authorities and Traffic Police are going to relax the laws on cycling on pavements, and in reality cyclists already do it.
The best protection is to avoid getting yourself into a dangerous situation, like when there are lorries or buses. A helmet is effective if you fall off your bike, but in collisions with cars or buses, there's not much proof that it will protect you. Most drivers here are quite friendly but still, it only takes one careless driver... so I cycle very protectively.
SINGAPORE HASN'T GOT ENOUGH LAND TO SPARE FOR DEDICATED BICYCLE PATHS
There's a lot the LTA [Land Transport Authority] can do if they have the motivation, they don't discourage or encourage cycling, but there are other things we can do within our limited space to make cycling safer and more pleasant, without a dedicated bicycle path. If cyclists are to cycle on pavements, they can make the pavement wider often there is grass alongside and that can be cut back a bit.
But the LTA has to make the connection that what they are planning now has an impact on the safety of people, and consider whether they are encouraging an active lifestyle or a passive lifestyle. I think what will really make the switch is when the LTA or the Ministry of Transport start to make the link between transport and its environmental as well as health impact. The Ministry's mission is to move people and goods efficiently; that's all they say their purpose is. Somehow, they and the LTA have fallen behind of her government bodies in their care for the health aspects. But I thinks it will come; it's a just a matter of time.
IT'S TOO HOT
When people complain about (he weather in Singapore for cycling, they are basing it on their walking experience.
Actually, if you're on a bike, you'll notice that it's a very different country! if you walk, it's very easy to feel the heat, because there's not much wind. But if you cycle, you have a bit of breeze and this could be a difference of two degrees Celsius.
IT'S TOO SLOW
Compared to driving, I spend maybe 15 minutes more per day on commuting. And funnily enough, whether I take the MRT or cycle all the way from the office to home, it takes roughly the same time, about 35 minutes, mainly because of the train transfer at the City Hall interchange.
PEOPLE NEED CARS FOR THEIR FAMILIES
I realized that my family too didn't need the car much, and for the few occasions we do need one, we take a taxi or use public transport. Giving up the car has been a big cost saving, about $1,000 a month - that means I can use the money for a holiday instead! We have four folding bikes and I, my wife and two sons, all enjoy cycling.