Tuesday, December 30, 2008

An expat's view of cycling in Singapore

I was sharing my experience of promoting the use of folding bike at work. One of my expat colleague share with me his perspective of cycling in Singapore.
I don't agree with everything he said, but some of his views based on his experience in Japan, Holland and now Singapore is indeed refreshing:

"I was reflecting on cultures that have higher usage of cycles and ahead of Singapore in the affluence wave – Japan and Holland (China is losing its cycling culture in its burgeoning affluence). On the weather I think there are different conditions for cycling for fun and cycling for transport. Whilst Singapore might be more suited to casual cycling it’s less suited to transport cycling as you would need to shower at your destination to be appropriate. Whilst there are a number of weather factors in Singapore that generally appear more welcoming to cycling it would seem that the self-consciousness of Singaporeans is likely not to change any time soon. Also the city’s lack of flexibility toward community changes and thus any change in the number of cyclists is unlikely to change the design of urban corridors and public transport infrastructure in favour of cycles whilst there is a substantial government reliance on oil-based taxes and investment in said industry infrastructure. Something about Japan and Holland is that cycles are accommodated at all manner of destinations and by dedicated paths/lanes or under law (in Japan cyclists have right of way on larger vehicles). Whilst the two cultures have a very different attitude to theft that doesn’t impede on the viability of such transport.

Also the very real lack of care shown by Singaporean drivers and bystanders means that the cost of accident or collision is far greater than one would experience elsewhere. When I have seen cyclists hit in Australia and Japan, people rush to their aid, here people stand by and watch. Also if you’re lucky enough to end up at hospital the first thing you meet is a cashier not a nurse. I’m only beginning to understand this but Singapore’s cultural selfishness in both self-preservation and self-defense means there are a number of industries and pastimes like cycling that have a slim adoption.

I think that the folding option is a decent workaround for the lack of affordance offered to cyclists in Singapore yet it’s not a mass adoption candidate. If say even 10% of people were to take up such a cycle then there would be a noticeable negative difference in the space on the train and whilst shopping in malls.

I’m not trying to be a sour sport but if there was any country in the world that could make an concerted push toward everyone cycling and also switching the entire country to electric vehicles it would be Singapore but it seems that people’s desire for money and status here is too strong for that to change in the short term.

Ok that’s my take at the moment, it might change with time but I do think it’s pretty cool that you’ve got such a tight and viable business happening. I hope it grows too because we need more people exercising!"

Well, wouldn't it be wonderful that the folding bike creates a congestion problem in the MRT?


Anonymous said...

I largely agree with your colleague that the cultural barriers to a bike commuting culture in Singapore are higher than in somewhere like Holland. I think he's spot on about the culture of self-preservation. An perhaps extreme example of this view is when many non-cyclists I talk to think that I should not condemn reckless driving because I knew I was putting myself in danger when I made the decision to cycle, therefore it's 'my fault' somehow that I'm endangered on the road! It's something like a condemnation of the fact that I am not self-preserving enough to ignore what I think are my obligations to the environment.

I think the best hope is that our famously 'pragmatic' and self-preserving government slowly wakes up to the benefits of cycling --- as health costs and oil prices rise, and as the environment deteriorates (which adds to rising health costs).

I'm not so sure that the climate is such a big factor against cycling in Singapore --- but my views are coloured by the fact that I've cycled in sub-zero temperatures and strong winds before and hated it! If showers were widely available at workplaces, this should be no biggie --- I personally look forward to a hot shower at my office after my commute.

Chu Wa said...

onecarless, great comment, thanks.
Singapore's weather is nearly ideal all year round for cycling, at least that's the opinion of experienced cyclists from other countries. Those who complaint about weather obviously had missed the fresh morning ride everyday. I pity them for locking into a view so narrow for so long.
Government's policy can change, as you pointed out when it become obvious there are many advantages that bicycle-transport can bring to the society. People's (i.e. driver's) behavior be change when more cyclists appear on the road.
I remain optimistic.

Anonymous said...

May be another cultural feature is that most cyclists here are poor and of lower status. Some Ministers need to start cycling, not in the park, but on the road for regular commuting, to challenge and change this. However, that seems highly impossible.

Since the weather is hot here, I think simple shower facilities should be made more common. Not only cyclists, anyone who perspires in this weather would benefit. It would encourage some healthy activities such as brisk walking. E.g. some may consider daily 30 mins brisk walking to office. Just as the non-smoking areas are expanding by the NEA, instead of the HPB or MOH, hope the HPB can push for more or compulsory shower facilities in buildings as an approach to promote health.

For me, a 5 minutes cooling time in air-con is good enough to dry up after an hour or less riding. Also, many times when I had been a bit undetermined whether to cycle or not due to the seemingly sunny weather, once on the road riding, I realized that it was much cooler than what I visually estimated.

Personally, if it is for daily commuting between two fixed place, home and office, I would prefer using two bikes instead of foldable, in combination with MRT/Bus/taxi/etc.

the macsmiths said...

Interesting reading this. I am moving to Singapore soon. What are the conditions like for Road riding?? Is it worth bringing my bike?

Anonymous said...

Hi Smitty, I think I've read your questions on some forum.

For people who cycle to work like me, it is very nice. For people who think it is not nice, it is terrible :)

However, if you intend to do 60km of road riding, then I am afraid there isn't a good place you could go as Singapore is an island about 40 km in length, but there is Malaysia where you can go.