Singapore might not spring to mind as a cycling mecca, but National Parks cycle advocates have made significant progress over the last 25 years - and are still adding to the facilities. By Jeremy Torr.
Singapore, April 2015 – "There's this tradition in Singapore that says everybody has to complain about what local officials and organisations are doing," says Tai Woon, driving force and chief organiser behind the local LoveCyclingSG movement. "But the National Parks people are doing a great job with our Park Connector Network (PCN). The tide is turning now and people are realising how easy it is to cycle in most parts of Singapore."
Tai Woon was talking to a group at the recent opening ride, organised by National Parks, to celebrate the completion of the PCN link between existing cycle paths at East Coast Park and Gardens by the Bay. And in the process, celebrate 25 years since the opening of the first Park Connector along the Pelton Canal. Some 150 cyclists from all walks of life had turned up at 8am on a bright Saturday morning (25 April) to inaugurate the new section of PCN. All seemed happy that they could now (if they are fit enough) ride from Changi Village right through to Clementi, without using any sections of major roads, and passing some delightful parts of Singapore on the way.
The new section leaves the East Coast park and crosses Fort Road over a special cycleway bridge, then meanders past the ECP right up to the Kallang River. It then passes underneath the Benjamin Speares Bridge and then connects up with existing PCN pathways at Gardens by the Bay that lead to the Marina Barrage.
"It's a long job making all the cyclepaths and connecting them up, but we are definitely making progress," says Yee Chung Yao, Deputy Director of Parks at the National Parks Board.
Yee says that the PCN now offers a total of 300km of cycle paths and connectors across the island, allowing all riders from serious fitness freaks to family parties and picnickers to travel to most parts of Singapore without the need for road riding. In fact this is one of Yee's key messages - that the PCN strategy is to make routes and rides that are accessible and easy to use by the whole family - not just the lycra-clad 'serious cyclist' brigades.
The National Parks is also celebrating the SG50 anniversary (50 years since Singapore was founded) by putting on a series of events and attractions that dovetail into the PCN. These include familiarisation rides and picnics, suitable for the whole family and led by National Parks and LoveCyclingSG guides; Cycle-In movie sessions at a selection of the major parks that are linked by the PCN; and Adventure Rides that focus on exploring less well-known routes and connectors. Updated details are on the National Parks website, or if you subscribe to their online newsletter.
"What we are finding now is that more and more people are seeing bicycles as a real alternative form of transport," says LoveCyclingSG's Tai Woon. He says that the numbers of people now using the PCN and bicycles for riding to work, shopping and commuting to see family is getting bigger all the time. "And we have to say the PCN is a big help in this. Riding in traffic in Singapore still has a way to go, and many motorists still need more education in how to ride with cyclists," he says.
Nonetheless, in a city like Singapore, with good, flat cycleways, warm weather and little wind, more and more people are using bikes as their basic form of transport.
"The only thing that is holding many people back is the lack of showers at work," smiles Tai Woon. "There is no doubt that you get a bit sweaty riding a bike, and that isn't always ideal for when you get to work."
MORE TO COME
Yet in 25 years, considerable progress has been made. 300 km of dedicated cyclepath on an island that only measures some 40km wide by 25km top to bottom, and boasts a mere 165km of expressways is a pretty solid achievement. Yee admits the work of developing cyclepaths for the PCN is ongoing, and sometimes throws up difficult challenges posed by new buildings, new roads and the restriction of existing paths.
"But the LTA's new future plan and direction is encouraging," he says. "With us both [LTA and National Parks] working together we will have plenty more good cycling facilities to look forward to."
With the final links in many separate sections of the PCN now coming together - like the East Coast/Gardens by the Bay section the riders christened last weekend - it looks like those challenges are being risen to.
For more about the Park Connector Network, go to : https://www.nparks.gov.sg/activities/fitness-sport-and-wellness/cycling
For more about LoveCyclingSG, go to : http://lovecycling.net/
For more about Parks Concerts, go to :https://www.nparks.gov.sg/activities/sg50