Friday, April 20, 2012

Two articles. a letter and comments in Today Online: "Life in the bike lane"

"Life in the bike lane," by Cheow Xin Yi. Today Online, 15 Apr 2012. Could Central London's 20-month-old bike sharing scheme provide a model for Singapore's CBD?
"They are these days a ubiquitous sight in central London: Executives in suit and tie pedalling from the train station to work in the financial district, or casual backpack-toting commuters on missions unknown, all mounted on bicycles with the distinctive blue livery.

Parking is a veritable breeze. These riders and their Boris bikes - dubbed affectionately after London's cycle-crazy mayor Boris Johnson - need only look for the nearest electronic docking point.

And there are 570 stations, each housing up to 125 points, and no more than 300m apart, all over the city.

Since London's public bicycle sharing scheme was launched in July 2010, as one of the three "spokes" to propel what Mr Johnson has declared the city's "cycling revolution", the response has been promising.

Barclays Cycle Hire is operated and funded by Transport for London (TFL), the body responsible for the city's public transport system, with partial sponsorship by Barclays Bank.

Can Singapore replicate such a model in its central district? After all, cycling is growing in popularity and official support has increased, with the Government having pledged S$43 million to improve cycling infrastructure islandwide under the National Cycling Plan.

While biking enthusiasts Today spoke to debated the viability of a public bike sharing scheme, at least one group of private investors is determined to put the model to the test in an urban workplace context by piloting a project at one-north in the next couple of months. (See related story below.)

Modelled after similar projects in Paris and Barcelona, feasibility studies for London's own cycle hire scheme began in 2008.

There were two clear goals, said TFL's head of operations James Mead: "The first is simply to get more people out of their cars and onto a bicycle in London. Second is the impact of that on traffic congestion, on emissions. It's better for the air. And also the health benefits - people are fitter when they ride a bike than driving a car."

The target - to increase cycling's share of total journeys in London from 2 per cent to 5 per cent by 2026 - is one that even Mr Mead admits is ambitious. There have been teething problems, public criticism and rumbles about the cost to tax-payers. Yet even so, the scheme appears to have gained traction in its first 18 months.

It averaged about 15,000 hires a day when it started; by January this year it was 24,000, said Mr Mead, who is confident of hitting 40,000 hires a day, the ridership needed for operations to break even.

Regular users can pay £45 (S$89) a year for unlimited use and a key to slot in to release the bike from its docking point; it can be "returned" at any other station. Casual users simply sign up with a credit or debit card and pay a £1 daily "access fee"; the first 30 minutes of use is free, after which charges climb exponentially (£1 for an hour, £6 for two hours, £35 for six hours).

"The intent, really, is for short point-to-point journeys," said Mr Mead. "The idea is that you can get to almost everywhere you want to go in less than half an hour, get your coffee or your meeting, come back out, start another journey. So you can ride a bike 10 times a day and it won't cost you more than £1. But prices do ramp up quite steeply by the hour because we want those bikes back."

Another telling sign of how Londoners have embraced Boris bikes: As of January, fewer than 35 bicycles under the scheme have been stolen.

TFL was prepared for at least 60 bikes a month to go to missing, or 720 a year. A similar scheme in Paris saw 9,000 bikes stolen in the first two years. Mr Mead attributed the London phenomenon to the Barclays scheme's "counter-intuitive" decision to do away with bike locks. The £300-pound penalty fee for lost bikes probably played a part too.

"What we've learnt from Paris is that we actually need to tell people, 'keep your bike with you all the time, put it back in the docking point after you're done. Don't lock it up outside the coffee shop.'

"The other thing that makes it so successful is this community feel around the bikes - all sorts of websites and forums have sprung up where people talk about how they use the scheme and which docking stations always have bikes ... I think people really understand that these are everybody's bikes, and they try to take care of them. It's been really gratifying."

Accidents meanwhile, were capped at fewer than 40 (and no fatalities), another encouraging statistic which Mr Mead attributed to the design of the heavy 23-kg bikes "that can't go very far".

One other factor that encourages commuters to cycle in the city centre are the bike lanes and tracks that criss-cross it - though these are often shared with other vehicles or pedestrians.

While central London is far ahead of Singapore's CBD in this respect, civil servant Fergus Harradence, 37, a Barclays cycle hire member, thinks more dedicated cycle routes are needed. "In West London, the main parks and along the River Thames this is not a problem, but in other places you end up jostling with the traffic on fairly narrow and busy streets. The experience would be much improved, and probably more people would use these bikes or their own if the infrastructure was better."

The convenience of the bike hire scheme appeals to those like civil servant Jeremy Burke, who says it is "no more complicated than purchasing tickets in most major cities ... you can just turn up and use it".

Investment banker Stephen Lien, who recommends gloves on 'particularly cold days', added: "It is the cheapest and quickest way to get around central London versus more conventional modes of public transport ... especially if the Tube is down or buses are not running."

Still, a common grouse of riders is the difficulty in docking the bikes when users end up concentrated in certain locations - such as during morning peak hours when most people are biking from the train stations to the office. "It would be great if the bikes were moved around the system more systematically so that there was less build-up in certain spots and less gaps in service at other places," said Mr Burke.

The writer's trip to London was made possible by the British High Commission in Singapore.

3 spokes of London's 'cycling revolution'
- Public bicycle sharing scheme to encourage people to cycle instead of drive within Central London
- "Cycle superhighways", 12 routes marked in blue running from outer London into Central London, for commuters wishing to bike between home and work.
- £4 million made available to selected boroughs for the creation of cycling hubs and local cycling communities

"Will Singaporean's pilot scheme take off?" By Cheow Xin Yi. Today Online, 15 Apr 2012.

Product designer and avid cyclist Francis Chu has come up with his own innovative twist on the bike sharing system, for his upcoming pilot project at one-north: The docking stations aren't fixed, but mobile.

This tackles one of the problems faced by the London project. Mr Chu explained that during peak hours, most bike sharing systems will have logistics teams undocking bicycles from the end-stations and transporting them by trailer back to the start stations, where they have to unload and dock the bicycles one by one.

"This is obviously very expensive and takes a lot of effort. The window of opportunity is not that great because peak hour is limited - the faster you can recycle the bicycles, the more people can use them," he said.

"What we have come up with is a station integrating storage with the docking of the bicycles. The station itself is on wheels. When the trailer is full, we just close the door the whole station is ready to go," said Mr Chu who, with five other investors, pumped S$100,000 into the scheme.

Besides making short point-to-point journeys, Mr Chu hopes his pilot scheme, called "Isuda" (or "easy, fast and access" in Mandarin), will also encourage commuters to use cycling as a "last-mile connection" between a bus terminal or train station and their workplace.

His group has secured approval for the scheme from JTC Corporation, one-north's landlord, and is running a trial with "one or two users". They hope to price the scheme at S$20 a month for unlimited use, with incremental charges for the duration of each ride.

"There is the perception of ... riding a bike for commuting as only appropriate for foreign labourers. That is a stigma that will take some time to erase," he says.

"One of the reasons that one-north is a good location to start with is the mix of people who work there - there is a high proportion of foreigners but these are researchers and usually highly educated; they do not associate cycling with this stigma but, rather, they see it as a greener and efficient mode of transport."

Why not approach the authorities for funding to make it a national scheme?
"We want to be independent and have the freedom, and progress at our own pace. Of course, if there are schemes or funds that are in line with what we are doing, there is no harm in us approaching the authorities." (The group is, meanwhile, in talks with the Land Transport Authority for permission to run the scheme on land not belonging to JTC and to clarify traffic regulations for cycling.)

Essentially, Mr Chu's aim is to make bike sharing profitable by reducing the operating costs. "The reason why London's and Paris' bike-share schemes need sponsors is because it's a very expensive operation. If we can make a small profit, then bike share can be expanded in an organic way," he said, citing hopes of expanding the scheme to the Central Business District someday.

To cycling enthusiast Ryan Li, the challenge of implementing a bike share scheme in the CBD is the need to balance space for human traffic with space for cyclists, given how built-up the area is.

"Most people cycling to the CBD to work are experienced riders cycling on the roads. Unless there is really a cycling lane catered for on the pavements, it will be quite a challenge" for new riders to cycle within the CBD, said the owner of biking specialist shop Bike Labz.

Indeed, given factors like that and the tropical weather, there are those who are sceptical that cycling to or around the business district would become popular.

The Bike Boutique formerly at Tras Street was founded in 2003 by Lynten Ong and a partner originally as a bike storage facility offering cyclists the use of showers. Mr Ong, who left the company in 2007 before it changed its business, said that in his time, demand was "quite minimal".

"Cycling has grown a little bit more over the years. It's more acceptable now ... but if you notice, it's more an expat market rather than a local market. It's still in its infancy, I think it'll take a while more before locals can accept the fact that it's okay to cycle to work.

Maybe when COEs go up to S$100,000 for cars," quipped Mr Ong, who now owns a bike shop at Jalan Batu.

See comments and responses on Today Online.

"Tips to ride the bumps in Spore's cycling ambition," by Sibert Muijzers. Letter to Today Online, 20 Apr 2012.

Will "Life in the bike lane" (TODAY on Sunday, April 15) work in Singapore? As an expatriate here for three years from the Netherlands, the No 1 bicycle country in the world, my answer is: No, or not yet.

However, I have some positive comments and even advice.

First, just thinking of the year-round tropical weather and I start to sweat already. Fortunately, though, there are not many steep hills here. In Holland, companies provide shower facilities, so one could still start work fresh - something to promote here.

Imagine, if 10 per cent of commuters were to cycle to work, peak-hour traffic and congestion on public transport would be solved, not to mention the healthier lifestyle for those sitting at their desks for hours.

A change in attitude, that cycling is for the poor, is needed.

Second, like pedestrians, cyclists are at risk on the roads here, especially users of sports bikes or mountain bikes, in their unprotected outfits at higher speeds.

They should realise that they are not in full control of their own safety but are dependent on others. Wearing a functional open-air, wind-optimised helmet is advised. Having said that, nowhere in the world do I see motorists so well behaved.

Third, pedestrians have their own protected pavements; what do cyclists here have? In this respect, I am surprised that product designer and avid cyclist Francis Chu wants to be independent of Government funding for his bike sharing project.

Such schemes should always be combined with sufficient and free parking lots. For example, I live near the Tiong Bahru MRT Station, and all I see are a few bikes locked to roadside fences. Partnership with the Government should be sought.

Holland has bike sharing/hiring programmes, although they are not big, as we have our own bikes, including bikes that can be folded to a size smaller than airline carry-on luggage, which one can take on to trains and buses.

So bicycle producers should promote and develop their business in Singapore.

Next, petty crime is unfortunately high in Holland. Every other year, on average, one of my bikes is stolen when locked, but unattended. Singapore sure has an advantage here.

Lastly, do not forget the millions of tourists. Independently exploring a country like Singapore is best done by bike. One then sees and experiences the most, gets as close to local residents as one wants, stops and goes whenever and wherever.

No other means of transport, including walking, can beat that. Singapore's other modes of transport, though, are well organised and mostly not that expensive. Still, the tourism board should act and promote cycling.

The writer has three bikes in Amsterdam and none in Singapore. This is a shorter version of his comment first posted at (from the comments of the previous article)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What about bicycle parking?

One of the many items under infrastructure is safe bicycle parking. Foldables might have reduced that pressure had cubicle size not decreased! Fixing the journey to work will be one part of a holistic plan which will require all aspects of a ride to be addressed by comprehensive regulation. Meanwhile, just last week, I heard two people whose workplace will have new buildings talk about incorporating bicycle-friendly facilities within their new designs. In both cases, it was cyclists in these entities which could be tapped on for some practical ideas.

That's because legislation doesn’t require it yet. Heck we don't have a master plan for cycling yet.

Still, from two years ago, Irene Ng hasn’t forgotten about cycling and asks, perhaps too many questions but anyway would not have gotten details in this platform anyway. But we hear that the Ministry of Transport "is studying [the issue] very carefully" as "one of the plans in the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint".

Ms Irene Ng Phek Hoong (Tampines): "Sir, I am encouraged to hear that the Ministry is planning to build more infrastructure as part of its plans to promote environmentally friendly practices in Singapore. Can I ask the Minister whether there are any plans to work with the relevant agencies to make sure that beyond the infrastructure, cycling is also a viable and safe mode of transport? If we want to promote cycling as a green mode of transport, it not only requires infrastructure but it also requires shower rooms in offices, education and enforcement to ensure that cyclists ride safely."

Dr Yaacob Ibrahim: "Sir, as mentioned in my earlier reply, the Ministry of Transport (MOT), together with HDB, has a programme to build up the cycling infrastructure. I do not have the details of it, to the extent, as mentioned by the Member, of shower facilities in some of the buildings.

But, certainly, this is being tried out by MOT, together with the various local agencies, to ensure that if the infrastructure is built, the users are responsible and safety is ensured. As you know our roads are already crowded and if we were to build cycling paths within the main roads, there are concerns and issues which we should bear in mind.

But, as I said earlier, this is something which MOT is studying very carefully. This is one of the plans in the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint. So we have to test it out and pilot it. But, to a large extent, if you ask me personally, it is about personal behaviour on how we work together as a community, ie, when we use the roads, we use it in a responsible manner."

Read the entire transcript of 'Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Yaacob Ibrahim's reply to Parliamentary question on the Singapore Sustainable Blueprint on 11 January 2010.'

You can share your feedback about how to tackle climate change at the NCSS webpage - they want to hear from you.

Interestingly, this evening I also read of New York City's proposal (in line with their 1997 master plan) for the adoption of requirements for indoor, secure, long-term bicycle parking in new multi-family residential, community facility, and commercial buildings:

"Studies and surveys by DCP (The NYC Bicycle Survey, 2007; The State of Cycling in NYC, 2006; Bicycle Parking Needs, 1999) have found that the lack of a safe and secure bicycle parking facility is a leading factor preventing people from cycling to work. In addition, a lack of bicycle storage facilities in residential buildings can make bicycle ownership impractical.

By promoting secure, indoor bicycle parking facilities, this proposal seeks to support ridership throughout the city as well as encourage new cyclists to start riding. The increase of cycling in the city will yield fitness and health benefits for riders as well as the potential benefits of alleviating congestion, improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions."

The proposal was adopted in 2009. See Dept of City Planning, NYCLinks

Monday, April 09, 2012

The Sunday Times, 08 Apr 2012: "More executives cycling to their CBD offices"

"More executives cycling to their CBD offices," by Carolyn Khew []. The Sunday Times, 08 Apr 2012. They set off early to beat traffic and have a shower, but parking is a problem for some
"Lawyer Niel Liebenberg, 40, cycles to work twice a week,his folded business shirt and pressed trousers in his backpack. To him, the 25-minute trip from his East Coast home to his workplace in Marina Bay is the 'calm before work'.

More professionals like Mr Liebenberg, many living outside the city, now cycle to work, typically in the Central Business District. Many leave their homes by 7.30am to 8am, before the traffic gets heavy. It also gives them time to wash up and change before starting work.

In Mr Liebenberg's case, his office building has dedicated areas for bicycles, which save him the trouble of finding a railing to secure his bike.

No one knows how many professionals now cycle to work in the city. But Mr Ryan Li, 32, who owns Bike Labz in the east, reckons from chats with his customers that 30 per cent to 40 per cent of them cycle to work.

Bike specialist Alan Soh, 24, who works at Athlete's Circle on Boon Tat Street in the CBD, has seen an uptrend too. 'We get about two or three people asking every month this year if we are keen to provide bike storage facilities. We had only one customer asking every few months last year,' he said.

Transport analyst Tham Chen Munn notes a variation of this trend: 'mix-commuting', where cyclists take their foldable bikes on board trains and cycle to their office from the nearest MRT station.

Last year, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said 1,600 more bicycle parking racks will be added at 10 MRT stations by September this year. This is timely, as cycling is growing in popularity.

A 2005 national sports participation survey found that cycling ranked seventh in the list of top 20 sports. About 110,000 people cited it as their top sport, up from about 80,000 in 2001.

Minister for Transport Lui Tuck Yew said last month in Parliament that by 2014, there will be at least another 50km of intra-town cycling paths and another 16km in the Marina Bay area.

More offices in the CBD are also providing biking facilities. A check with 30 office buildings in the CBD found 12 with bicycle parking areas that contain from five to 211 spaces. Capital Tower in Robinson Road, which was completed in 2000, included 14 bicycle spaces in its plans. They are usually fully occupied. Asia Square Tower 1, near Gardens by the Bay in Marina Bay, was completed in June last year. It has shower facilities and 211 bicycle spaces.

Still, the lack of proper bike-parking areas in the city poses a problem for some riders.

Cafe owner Danny Pang, 42, cycles from his home in Simei about twice a week to visit his cafe outlets in the CBD. But Mr Pang finds the dearth of proper biking facilities a problem. On days when he has to go to office buildings with no bike parking, he rides his 12kg foldable Brompton bicycle, which he can carry along with him. 'It is very difficult for me to cycle if there are no parking spots around... My bike is not cheap and I can't risk having it stolen,' he said.

IT consultant Calvin Boo, 42, has been cycling from his Bukit Timah home every day for the past six months. After using his car to take his children to school, he returns home to park, before making his 20-minute commute to work at Raffles Place. 'Cycling to work gives me my morning exercise, and it's faster than taking the bus or train, which takes about 40 to 50 minutes,' he said.