Friday, July 23, 2010

A little tour of Sembawang bicycle infrastructure

Bicycle paths are gradually appearing in various Singapore new towns, with further plans announced recently. Are they helpful? Are the designs of high quality? Are they improving and learning from earlier mistakes. Leave a comment below if you have a view.

With those questions in mind I took a look around Sembawang this afternoon to see the bicycle infrastructure in the streets near the MRT station there. Here are some photos (from my mediocre phone camera).

The Sembawang paths as announced in 2008.

Please note that these paths are clearly intended for slow bicycle users - the same people who use the footways anyway, with or without bicycle paths. In my 90 minute walk I saw maybe 100 cyclists or more. Only two were on the roads and they were the only fast moving ones I saw. 
Most of the paths are simply widened footways, with separate sections for bicycle users and pedestrians. I saw a good mix of the sexes and a very wide range of ages (from small children to extremely elderly folks) using the paths.

No one paid any attention at all to the signs and paint during my short visit. But it didn't seem to matter. Maybe things are different at busy times like the morning and evening peak periods? 

In some places, the walking and cycling paths are separate. I didn't see anyone using the curvy path meant for pedestrians however.

The paths continue behind some bus stops without asking requiring bicycle users to dismount. Just a warning to give way. This is trusting people to be courteous, which I hope they mostly are! 

But cyclists are asked to dismount to negotiate some bus stops. Not surprisingly, none did so while I watched.
Bicycle users are also asked to dismount and walk wherever the path crosses the access street into the HDB parking areas. No prizes for guessing that none ever do! These are danger points but it seems unrealistic to expect cyclists to dismount here. Shouldn't such places be redesigned to have raised zebra crossings to give both pedestrians and cyclists priority? Motorists should be going very slowly and watching out at such locations anyway.

Signs in Tampines (and media coverage) suggest bicycle users are expected to walk across pedestrian crossings. I didn't see such signs in Sembawang except where the path itself ends before the intersection. In any case, the cyclists all do ride across, mostly cautiously at close to walking pace. 
By the way, there seems to be some confusion on the issue of cycling across pedestrian crossings. The law itself apparently does NOT ban cycling across pedestrian crossings (lights or zebra crossings), at least according to a 2009 parliamentary explanation by the Minster for Home Affairs (via Slow Riders blog). However, cycling on footways is illegal everywhere except Tampines. So it is not surprising there is confusion.

A wide range of people are cycling on the paths (and on other footways!). The high number of women and children I saw is a clue that cyclists here feel a high level of 'subjective safety'. I really don't know if that perception is matched by low accident and injury rates. Does anyone know of any careful analysis of this for these paths or others like them in Singapore?

So, what is your verdict on these facilities? 

Please comment! Are the Sembawang paths better than nothing? Could they be better? Are they a good start? Could they be improved on incrementally? Is there any need for all the paint and signs (which everyone seems to ignore)? Would it be better to just legalize cycling on pavements, as in Tampines (and as in Japan and certain states in Australia), and also widen them wherever possible?

I also have to confess some ignorance here on some important points. I am not sure if the newer bicycle paths (such as the latest one in Tampines) are using the same design guidelines as these older ones. Does anyone know? Have the design guidelines been made public? I am also a little confused about which paths have been done by which agency. I think Sembawang's paths were a Town Council initiative, whereas the newly announced paths are coming from an LTA initiative. Can anyone confirm?


anthony said...

The struggle here (and in my opinion the doom to failure point) is that pedestrians don't honour the bike path, and then bikes don't honour the dismount as requested.

The truth is that a model like in Holland is what is needed, but that would require less focus on owning a car in Singapore and giving over a whole lane for bikes...and not the "motorised" variety that seem to be growing in frequency on the footpaths.

Back2Nature said...

The main helpful thing is the authority is doing something about it, period. However, the things they have done seems to have almost equal pros and cons.

I am not familiar about the situation in Japan, but it seems like just making the paths wider, less kerbs will do. It is better not to have all those signs and regulations, if what is being requested is not natural and not easy to be enforced. Anyway, cyclists are not evil or stupid to go out to create problems [except those immature ones but that is a different problem].

It seems to me there isn't much issues in Toa Payoh, where the originally relative wide footpaths (built in the 70s) were indirectly widened with the cover up of many drains here. Whereas, I realized from my last visit to Woodlands near Admiralty MRT how narrow their footpaths and roads are, and made worse by some trees and overhead bridge stairs taking out half of the already narrow footpaths.

I am happy about WKS answer saying it is apparently OK to ride across pedestrian crossings, but not happy when nobody stressed the main issue of not to ride faster than normal walking speed across pedestrian crossings.

As a cyclist, I don't see much good in asking cyclists to dismount. Some reasons:
1) it is not too easy to dismount when carrying someone else [though it may be illegal], or some heavy stuffs.
2) other than those lady bikes, cyclist may kick someone by the act of dismounting.
3) in narrow paths, dismounting create a wider object (cyclists and bicycle side by side) and create more congestions.
Just as we don't ask motorists to change to first gear, but to slow down. Can't we demand the similar to cyclists, to slow down?

On one hand, I hope the authorities go out and study how other cities have done it successfully. On the other hand, I hope they don't expect the same effect as the demographics is different or unique here. Compare to other cities, I think we have
1) more teenagers and younger kids, aka immature cyclists, roaming the streets than most other cities. (This is a different problem that shouldn't be tackled by bicycle infrastructure)
2) more elder pedestrians outdoors.
3) more pedestrians who don't drive/cycle.
4) more pedestrians.
5) shorter footpaths.
Thus, don't expect to achieve a cycling path that facilitate fast riding in the near and relatively further future.

wari said...

The only way to get cyclists to dismount is to introduce steps where they are expected to (bus stops). I don't think any cyclists would dismount unless they see someone enforcing it and giving tickets to offenders.

It is not surprising that pedestrians would use the cyclists path, because being on the inside, they are usually more shaded. And really, who would walk in a zigzag path anyway? At least in Woodlands, near the Civic Center, the paths that are curvy are meant for cyclists, and are near the roadside. Cyclists would use that, and pedestrians sticky to the almost shady path of the path.

I use the road, as I have no patience, nor have the time to be on the paths, also, too dangerous for me.

The real menace I see nowadays, are like what Anthony mentioned, battery powered bikes should not be on the pedestrians or cycling paths.

Anonymous said...

It's a good start if the govt plans to improve on it slowly. But it's a bad idea if the govt is going to hang up their brains, pat themselves on their back and start popping champagne in celebration.

A bicycle path has to be well design to meet the needs of users. On a 2 way street in Yishun, I notice cycling paths are only on 1 side of the road while none on the other. So, if I need to ride on the other side on the road, I either ride on the pedestrian pavement or on the road. Riding on the pavement will result in a fine(?) while riding on the road is a suicide act. Drivers learning of bike path wmay assume all cyclists are cleared from the roads and the roads are returned to the 'rightful' owner - them. This results in them not looking out for the cyclist. And if the poor cyclist on the road gets knocked down, does it mean they 'deserve' it?

By the way, a great man once said, 'no amount of engineering can prevent a flood.' I said, 'no amount of design and engineer can perfect it if the mentality of people - cyclists, pedestrian and drivers do not change. Consideration, respect and understanding is all we need to change it. Ok, I think I had a little too much of a drink.

xtrevi said...

As in most every country, in Singapur bikes should be regarded as vehicles. Segregation between pedestrian space and bikes is required. Dutch & Danish guidelines should be followed, and some US bike facilities & european "30-zones" examples should be used to traffic design.

Of course, design should be home made, but always considering bikes as a type of vehicles.

zing said...

Hi Paul, thanks for the effort, especially the photos. My phone camera is far worse!

On cycling across side roads without traffic lights -- cars should be approaching slowly, but this is a definite hazard as the stop line is not before the line of the bike path. Bikes here are more vulnerable than pedestrians as they can't step back quickly. There will also be drivers in a hurry, and those who turn in too quickly. As a learner driver, I can understand how difficult it can be to notice a cyclist.

Perhaps the best thing is to replace the dismount signs with warnings to look out for cars and go slowly. A tad loathe to say this but cars have the right of way here unless they are speeding. Replacing the well-ignored signs would make less of a mockery of the whole thing.

For road cyclists, remind drivers that they have the right of way across a side road as cars do.

Anonymous is right that bike paths on pavements might mislead drivers into thinking that cyclists have no right to the road. Public education time!

Another concern is the spatial limits of the bike path network. The rights and expected behaviour of cyclists beyond the outreach of this network have to be made clear.

Would also like to underline Back2Nature's comment on the unique demographics of Singapore's cyclists and pedestrians. This generally rings true in comparison to the UK, especially when the weather isn't warm.

Anonymous said...

Yea i totally agree the bike path in sembawang is almost of no use , in a sense pedestrians don't regard it. Perhaps a switch where cyclists are to use the outer path would be more successful.

zing said...

Hi again Paul,

You've probably seen this comment already, on the ST Forum:

onelesscar said...


Do you have evidence to back up your claims about there being more 'immature' cyclists and more pedestrians in Singapore? The only study I remember on international walking rates had Singapore's as pretty low compared to other European cities of its size, and New York City. (Sorry, I can't find it on Google so far.)

I would strongly suspect that bike-friendly European cities would also have more 'immature' cyclists than Singapore does, simply because the perception of safety in those cities is higher, so more children are allowed to cycle as a mode of transport.

In general, I would be very careful about arguments that Singapore is a 'special case' because of demographics, because cycling demographics are strongly influenced by cycling policy. To reject the policies of other countries that have successfully made cycling a major mode of transport just because current cycling demographics don't match theirs is to fall prey to a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you read about the history of re-introducing cycling in the Netherlands, you will find out that after WWII, they also went through a period of rapid motor vehicle growth and decreasing modeshare of cycling particularly among the more 'vulnerable' -- the same pattern you see in bike-unfriendly cities today. They had to work very hard policy-wise to reverse that. There was nothing 'special' about the demographics of Holland that made their policies work -- it was sheer sensible, determined extension of cycling infrastructure. If you look at current international patterns of cycling demographics, you will also find a strong correlation between quality of cycling infrastructure and cycling demographics.

Back2Nature said...

No, just a few of my personal deductions from my trips to some cities. I am not particularly talking about cycling demographics, but demographics in more general terms. Thus, the word "cyclists" can be replaced by "age groups" from the statement "more teenagers and younger kids, aka immature cyclists, roaming the streets than most other cities."

May be we don't have more pedestrians, but I do feel there are more younger and older pedestrians compared to other cities. I guess the reason is here being safe for these groups to be out, by themselves. My Malaysian wife was quite surprise to see so many secondary students outside by themselves, and elder working in fastfood outlets.

I hope such special, if it really is, demographics are taken into consideration in the design, but not as excuses to brush all other cities solution aside.

David Chan said...

I think cycling tracks are an excellent idea, but would like to see anti-skid coating on these tracks (like they have them in Hong Kong). Concrete can get slippery in the rain and Singapore does get quite a bit of that. Also they look much better with the coating than the hard concrete.

Anonymous said...

"immature cyclists" ? and then there are irrespectful and irresponsible cyclists who will, for their own selfish reasons and out of disrespect for rules and regulations, cycle anywhere - be in void decks, pavements and sometimes inside shopping centres and bus interchanges or places where no cycling is allowed. what can we, helpless pedestrians do?