As both a cyclist and a driver, I feel inclined to speak out about the contentious issue over cycling in Singapore. While another debate over whether or not cyclists should be restricted to pedestrian footpaths would seem like mere repetition, given the tedium we already get from newspapers, blogs, Twitter etc, I would like to share some interesting and unconventional thoughts on the issue.
1. Only cyclists who are commuters should be allowed on roads
From my experience as a driver, the percentage of cyclists on the roads are more or less equally split between commuters, and those who cycle for sport (typically fitted with Lycra from head to toe and sporting a pair of Oakleys). My opinion is that those who cycle for sport should not be allowed on roads.
My logic is this: Roads are designed for individuals to commute. They are not designed for individuals to pursue their own hobbies and passions. If cyclists are allowed on public roads for their sport, what is preventing badminton players from using road dividers as a net for their weekly games, or golfers using the PIE as a driving range? What distinguishes the cyclist from the badminton player or the golfer? What confers upon them and only them the right to use public roads as a training venue? The government has done an incredible job of building park connectors all over the island, which are more than enough to satiate the appetite of any cyclist. Moreover, you don’t see race car drivers taking to public roads to practice, do you? They go to proper race tracks around the island to do so. Cyclists who cycle on roads for sport are pursuing a luxury that they do not deserve, and it is unfortunate for commuting cyclists that cyclists in general are painted in such a negative light in Singapore.
2. Cycling to work does not work in Singapore
Sure, it is environmentally friendly. Yes, it keeps people fit. But seriously, cycling as a sustainable form of transport in Singapore? Singapore has a respectable transport infrastructure, and its traffic laws even benefit cyclists, as it treats cyclists as road users and offers them the same protection as any other road-using motorist. However, Singapore’s weather is simply not conducive for cycling as a feasible form of transport, and there is simply nothing that anyone, even the government, can do about it.
The decision to compare Singapore’s cycling ridership rate to that of famous, bicycle-friendly European cities (such as Copenhagen or Amsterdam) is therefore an extremely questionable one. In these countries, one can cycle comfortable for hours without breaking a sweat. This allows one to hop onto a bicycle at home (with an overcoat on, no less), cycle to work (with the overcoat still on), and hop off at work (taking off the overcoat ONLY when one is indoors).
Unfortunately, such ideal cycling weather is totally absent in Singapore. Unless one has easy access to shower facilities, or is willing to lug around a spare set of clothes, the perspiration stains from nothing more than a 10-minute ride would make most individuals unpresentable for work. The image that some members of our government try to paint where cycling to work is feasible, is therefore misguided and can only be conceived by individuals who obviously do not cycle to their workplaces.
3. The bus lane does not serve as a bicycle lane
Many a time we read in the papers cyclists who believe that the bus lanes in Singapore double up as a cycling lane. This could not be further from the truth, and demonstrates an unfortunate lack of awareness by these cyclists. As their name suggests, the bus lanes in Singapore are designed for buses. Yes, they may seem underused during peak hours, with the bus lanes appearing to be relatively less congested than the lanes alongside it. But this does not give cyclists an excuse the exploit this lane. Simple arithmetic can probably show that the total volume of passengers in the bus lane would be similar to those plying other lanes, given that one bus contains many more times the number of passengers than a normal car. Despite how fast cyclists think they travel, their cruising speed is by far slower than of buses. Hogging the bus lane is akin to hogging a normal lane in traffic; if one should not do it in normal lanes, shouldn’t it be obvious that one should not do it in the bus lanes either? Moreover, buses are wider and much less maneuverable than a passenger car. It takes a lot more time and space (and considerable skill by the driver) to overtake a cyclist in the bus lane as compared to a normal car. Keeping as close to the edge of the road does not help either. It does not make it easier for the bus to overtake, and the risk of accident to both parties is unnecessarily high. Unfortunately, most cyclists are all too unaware of the cumulative time of all the people on the bus that he is wasting by hogging the bus lane, and firmly believe that there is hardly anything wrong with using the bus lane.
This piece may seem unfairly critical of cyclists in Singapore, and I would not attempt to argue otherwise. Sure, there are steps that society can take to be more accommodating to cyclists, yet it appears that cyclists are doing all the taking and none of the giving. As a cyclist myself, it pains me deeply to have to pen this article, but I can rest assured knowing that this is what I have observed and learned from my personal experiences. I’m sorry, my fellow cyclists, but we cannot always have our cake and eat it too.