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?

Friday, July 16, 2010

"Seven towns to have dedicated cycling paths by 2014" (CNA)

Other articles on the same announcement are highlighted in WildSingapore (click to read):
  1. "Changi-Simei and Bedok join ranks of cycling towns," by Maria Almenoar. The Straits Times, 16 Jul 2010.
  2. "Marina Bay to be showcase cycling town," by Maria Almenoar. The Straits Times, 16 Jul 2010.
  3. "The two-wheeler push," by Leong Wee Keat. Today Online, 16 Jul 2010.

"Seven towns to have dedicated cycling paths by 2014," by Dylan Loh. 15 July 2010.

"SINGAPORE: The government pedals forward with plans to get more people on two wheels. By 2014, Changi-Simei and Bedok will have dedicated cycling lanes.

This will bring to seven the number of estates where the government aims to promote intra-town biking to transport nodes like MRT stations. The other towns, announced in February 2009, are Yishun, Tampines, Sembawang, Taman Jurong and Pasir Ris. The tracks in these towns will be completed by 2012. In total, S$43 million will be spent for such dedicated cycling paths in the seven towns.

Besides the heartlands, the Marina Bay area will also see more biking action.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has been working closely with the Urban Redevelopment Authority and National Parks Board to implement a network of cycling paths in the area. S$26 million has been set aside for the project. Work on these bicycle paths will begin this year and by 2014, cyclists can look forward to 16 kilometres of dedicated bicycle lanes in the Marina Bay area.

Meantime, construction of dedicated cycling paths in Tampines and Yishun has started. The first 1.2-kilometre stretch in Tampines will open for use this Sunday.

Dedicated bicycle lanes are hugely popular in European cities like Salzburg, Berlin and especially Amsterdam, where the bikes outnumber people by almost half. That's how much they love their two wheels. So the big question is: Can a similar cycling culture catch on in Singapore?

"I suppose so, because like now, cars are giving off too much greenhouse gas emissions," said a member of the public.

"It's not just a form of transport but it also builds up your physical fitness. So I would go for cycling," said another.

"No, because people might get in the way when I cycle and it's quite troublesome," said a third.

Initiatives like safety talks and cycling clinics will be used to tell the public about responsible cycling.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Teo Ser Luck said: "We want to make sure that they are educated in terms of some of the behaviours when they're cycling and making sure they recognise the different signs."

In addition, more resources will also be put into developing bicycle parking facilities at key transport hubs. "

- CNA/al/ir