Cycling city by 2030... or 2020?

Cycling city by 2030... or 2020?

The Government has set a 2030 target for turning Singapore into a cycling nation, complete with a network of 700km of bicycle paths.

But former Housing Board planner and cycling enthusiast Maria Boey thinks that is too long. She believes it can be done by 2020, six years from now, if "we put our minds to it".

The 64-year-old, who was with the HDB for 26 years and had a hand in designing Tampines, Singapore's first cycling town, suggests starting with education, then marking out bike-only lanes in the city on Sundays and allowing cyclists to use pedestrian footpaths responsibly.

"We could do it in less than six years," said Madam Boey, vice-president (landscape architecture) at building consultancy Surbana, especially with the Government embracing cycling as a viable mode of transport.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong this month said new initiatives to encourage cycling would soon be piloted in towns such as Ang Mo Kio and Tampines.

To date, the Government has committed about $59 million towards cycling infrastructure in Tampines, Taman Jurong, Yishun, Sembawang, Pasir Ris, Changi-Simei, Bedok and Marina Bay.

Madam Boey's timeline has its doubters, but experts agree that her suggestions, such as teaching cycling in primary schools, are a good start.

"Some kids nowadays grow up not knowing how to ride bikes. We have to prepare them to use the new infrastructure," she said.

In the Netherlands, where nearly a third of all trips are made on bikes, final-year primary school pupils sit a cycling examination that has a practical test and a multiple-choice section on traffic rules.

Transport consultant Jair Smits from Dutch engineering consultancy Witteveen+Bos believes a similar scheme will help ingrain a safe cycling culture. "It helps kids get familiar with traffic signs and networks," said Mr Smits, who took the test as a child.

Setting aside cycling lanes on some city roads on Sundays would not require any "drastic change", said Madam Boey, who has been cycling since she was a schoolgirl in Batu Pahat, Malaysia.

"This could even become a heritage trail for tourists," said Madam Boey, who organised such a ride in the city centre last Sunday for a group of 34 local and foreign city planners as well as cycling enthusiasts.

Transport researcher Paul Barter believes this is doable, saying roads like North Bridge Road and South Bridge Road can be turned into dual-directional bike paths.

"Some of these roads are over-engineered for the capacity, you could easily take away a lane and not have traffic jams," said the adjunct associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Madam Boey also suggested amending the Road Traffic Act to make cycling on pedestrian footpaths legal, saying that "cycling on roads can be dangerous".

Mr Francis Chu, the co-founder of cycling group LoveCyclingSG, said: "You could put in a rule that makes cyclists responsible in cases of accidents, to ensure they give way to pedestrians."

Residents' cycling habits can be studied so that footpaths commonly used by cyclists can be widened, and divided for walking and cycling, said Madam Boey.

Experts agree that the Government needs a more comprehensive plan if it hopes to achieve its vision of a cycling nation, which Dr Barter defines as one in which 10 per cent of all trips are made on bikes. Currently, this stands at 1 to 2 per cent.

Mr Chu said the upcoming 700km bike network, which includes park connectors meant for leisure, is a fifth of Singapore's 3,452km-road network. That means cyclists would be able to get to only 20 per cent of the places they could with a car.

Whether Singapore could become a cycling city like Copenhagen and Amsterdam would be a test of political will, said Mr Scott Dunn, director of development for global engineering group Aecom.

"A lot of money is going into rail, bus routes for public transit and other road projects, but there is not as much money going into cycling programmes," he said.

Experts point out that the North-South Expressway, expected to be completed by 2020, will cost $8 billion on its own - 135 times the $59 million for cycling.

Mr Dunn believes recreational cycling could well become a way of life in the next three to five years, but it could take up to 20 years to become a common transport choice. Madam Boey is more optimistic.

She points to Tampines as an example. In the middle of the neighbourhood off Tampines Avenue 3 is the estate's "green connector" - a 1km-long bike path running between housing blocks which she designed in the 1980s. The 1.5m-wide shady, tree-lined track leads to the town centre. Today, it is a busy lane well-used by residents on their bikes.

She said: "Cycling infrastructure was quite unpopular last time because there were not too many cyclists. But if you build it, people will use it."

This article was first published on Nov 30, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.

This article was first published on Nov 30, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.


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