by Goh Sui Noi, Straits Times 25 Nov 2008.
IF YOU think cycling is a slowpoke's way of getting around, think again.
Company director Lee Eng Hwee, 48, shaved several minutes off his usual travelling time by car when he cycled to work. Enough time for him to take a shower before getting behind his desk at the same time as if he had driven to work. Not only did he beat the peak-hour jams, but he also saved $500 a month in petrol during the year that he cycled to work.
As for systems analyst Subbusamy Sivakumar, 34, cycling to work is more convenient than taking the bus.
'If I take the bus, I have to wait 10 minutes, and then the journey is another 10 minutes,' he explained. If he cycles, it takes just 10 minutes to get from his Tampines flat to his place of work, the Changi General Hospital in Simei.
The clammy weather does not bother him because the trees along the way provide shade. His only concession to the heat is removing his tie for the journey.
Many Singapore residents are taking to the bicycle as a mode of transport for various reasons, not least to save money, particularly during these lean times.
For Mr Louis Wee, 39, who owns a bicycle shop in the East Coast area, delivering goods on his bicycle to nearby places helps him to cut costs.
For housewife Ong Siew Lian, 52, it's the freedom of movement that she enjoys on her second-hand bicycle, the exercise she gets and the time she saves that motivate her to cycle everywhere within her Tampines estate. She also has better control of her time, she said, as taking the bus can mean a wait of five to 15 minutes.
And for retiree Sia Teck Cheng, 67, of Sembawang, it's simply a matter of dollars and cents. 'I have no money to take the bus,' he told The Straits Times.
Then there is Mr John Teo, 36, an IT manager who cycles from his Bedok home to his office in Marina Square during the school holidays when he does not need to take his two boys to school. He cycles to beat the traffic jams, but also 'to do my part for the environment', he said.
The Government has recognised the growing popularity of cycling as a mode of transport. The Land Transport Masterplan states that the Government will facilitate cycling as a transport option to 'bring commuters to major transport nodes'. This includes providing better bicycle parking facilities around MRT stations and bus interchanges; allowing foldable bicycles onto buses and trains on a trial basis; close short gaps between park connectors and transport nodes; and installing appropriate road signs to alert motorists to the presence of cyclists.
But the Government has no plans to encourage cycling for transport in a big way. Asked why by the Straits Times, the Land Transport Authority's replied:
'Singapore aims to have a land transport system that can move people, goods and services seamlessly and efficiently.
'Public transport (buses and trains) is a more efficient mode of transport in moving large masses of people, relative to cycling.'
One argument offered by government officials is that Singapore's hot and humid climate is not conducive to cycling. Even with facilities such as bicycle lanes, Singaporeans will not take to it. Moreover, bicycle lanes in land-scarce Singapore is not cost-effective. It is physically not feasible to set aside dedicated road space for bicycles.
Yet bicycle paths will make it so much safer for the many cyclists already on the road. Chinese national Zhang Chengquan, 38, a shipyard worker who cycles to work every day, finds going on the road unsafe but going on the footpath an inconvenience to pedestrians.
In Tampines, cyclists have welcomed the 3km of cycle tracks built by NParks as part of its project to link up its parks. 'I don't have to worry about colliding with pedestrians,' said Madam Ong.
She usually cycles on footpaths for safety reasons. 'I'm afraid to go on the road,' she said.
Cycling on footpaths is an offence punishable by composition fines of $20. But it appears the traffic police have closed an eye to this widespread practice in housing estates.
In Tampines, there is a trial to allow cyclists to go on footpaths. 'The trial...is to make sure that those using footways will cycle safely and responsibly so as not to endanger pedestrians,' said Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng.
However, pedestrians are unhappy with sharing footpaths with cyclists. A Tampines resident, in a letter to the ST online forum, called for 'no cycling' zones in heavy pedestrian traffic areas like wet markets.
Ms Ng noted that her town council has embarked on a project to provide 2.3km of cycle paths and that it is working with the Land Transport Authority to provide another 7km of such paths.
Another option would be to widen the innermost lanes of roads so cyclists are not squeezed off the road, especially by lorries. Cyclists note that traffic lanes here are too narrow to allow big vehicles to pass cyclists safely.
Education of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists is another way to make cycling safe. Legislation to put the onus on motorists to look out for and give way to slower traffic - that is, pedestrians and cyclists - will make for safer roads.
Another issue for cyclists is theft of bicycles which, they say, happens frequently. Sembawang resident Azmi Buang, 44, has had three bicycles stolen in seven years. He will not leave his bicycle at MRT station cycle parks for several hours on end as part of a commute.
Mr Sivakumar, who has had a bicycle stolen from the void deck, suggested that closed-circuit TV cameras be installed at void deck bicycle park areas to deter theft. Mr Wee suggested that enclosed bicycle parks with security guards be set up, with cyclists paying a small fee for their use.
The Government has reacted passively to such demands for facilities by cyclists.
Yet, with the issue of global warming and climate change gaining urgency, actively encouraging pedal power may be the way to go in Singapore. The island is small and compact enough, and flat enough, for cycling to be a viable mode of transport.
Thoughtful urban planning so that work, school and play are localised and travel distances shortened would be one way to encourage cycling.