Monday, 10 November 2008

Two-wheel revolution possible?

More are taking up cycling as a viable transport option here

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Guanyu 道 said...

Two-wheel revolution possible?

More are taking up cycling as a viable transport option here

By Yeo Ghim Lay
10 November 2008

Over a year ago, Mr. Ian Bellhouse, 43, stopped taking public transport to work. But it is not by car that he goes from his Bukit Timah home to his Tanjong Pagar office.

Mr. Bellhouse cycles to work and after the 20-minute journey, does not worry about being all sweaty, or where he can park his bike.

That’s because of The Bike Boutique, a bicycle store at Amoy Street, where he parks his two-wheeler.

Then, he pops into the store’s shower to wash up. Clean towels, toiletries and even a hair dryer are provided. A neat rack holds his work clothes.

All freshened up and ready, he leaves the store and walks down the street to the design consultancy he works at.

When he knocks off work, he just picks up his bike, puts his cycling gear back on and pedals home.

The Briton, who has been in Singapore for nine years, said he would never cycle to work if not for the bike lodging service. At monthly rates ranging from $80 to $115, a cyclist can park his bike in the store, use the showers and keep their items in a personal locker.

‘It’s fantastic,’ said Mr. Bellhouse.

Mr. Alex Bok, 40, managing director of The Bike Boutique, left the banking industry he had worked in for over 10 years and started the business three years ago.

Boutique franchises in Kuala Lumpur and Manila opened recently and upcoming ones in Australia and other countries are in the pipeline.

Besides bike lodging, Mr. Bok’s store also sells, rents and services bikes. Over 60 cyclists use the bike lodging service.

And the native Dutch, who has lived in Singapore for 12 years, has even bigger plans. He dreams of putting bike lodging ‘containers’ outside major office buildings in the Central Business District, for cyclists to park their bikes.

These containers would resemble the outdoor food kiosks that dot the pedestrian walkways of Orchard Road.

Mr. Bok said he is in talks with a gymnasium chain to allow cyclists to use their showers to freshen up.

But so far, building owners he has pitched his idea to are unenthusiastic.

The developer of a major office building in the Shenton Way area said no as it felt a container on its premises would be an eyesore.

Funding is also an issue, which is why he hopes that the Government, which aims to make Singapore more bicycle-friendly, will come on board. ‘I don’t have a million dollars to build 50 containers,’ said Mr. Bok, who has 10 employees.

He might have reason to be optimistic.

Land Transport Authority (LTA) chief executive Yam Ah Mee said last week that the LTA is looking to partner private vendors to set up public bicycle stands to rent out bicycles and offer services like washing of bicycles.

Mr. Bok believes ideas like his will encourage more cyclists to ride their two-wheelers to work.

He is one among a growing fraternity of cycling enthusiasts here who feel it can be an alternative transport option.

While the hot and humid climate might not be the most ideal, some will tell you that Singapore is among the best Asian cities to cycle in.

For one thing, there are not that many hilly areas to manoeuvre. The air here is also cleaner than in some cities like Hong Kong. And expatriate cyclists say they can cycle here year-round compared to back in their homelands, where winter can be brutal on open transport

But safety on the roads is still a big concern.

Accidents involving cyclists have gone up over the years, from 381 in 2005 to 551 last year. There have been 283 such accidents in the first half of this year, of which 11 were fatal. Last year, there were 22 fatal accidents, up from 15 in 2006.

One such accident four years ago spurred the start of the Safe Cycling Task Force (SCTF), a 15-member volunteer group that promotes and protects the safety of cyclists.

While they welcome the authorities’ moves so far to promote cycling, they believe that more can be done to educate road users and pedestrians.

‘All of us, at some point, would have encountered a near-miss on the road,’ said SCTF president Steven Lim, 41.

Adding to their frustration are motorists and bus drivers who are unaware that cyclists are allowed in bus lanes.

The task force has proposed that LTA sections off a small part of the left-most lane for cyclists.

It also acknowledges that it is not just motorists who need to be educated.

‘There are many cyclists who misbehave because they do not know what is safe cycling. They need to be taught,’ said Mr. Cor-Henk Roolvink, 44, vice-president of SCTF.

The group also hopes to see more cyclists with helmets. Mr. Lim said that it can be difficult to convince older cyclists and foreign workers to wear helmets.

‘Some think that it’s a hassle, while others think it looks uncool,’ he said.

However, he draws the line at imposing a law to make helmets compulsory on riders, as he feels it will be too draconian.

His group is now putting together a list of practical tips that they hope can be incorporated into the Highway Code.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Teo Ser Luck, an avid cyclist himself, told The Straits Times that it is possible to have bicycle lanes on roads with less traffic, but these might not be feasible on main trunk roads.

‘Singapore is one of the most densely populated city states and with our road scarcity, squeezing in bicycle lanes might be stretching it,’ he said.

While a major change to the road infrastructure looks to be unlikely for now, the SCTF is hoping for a change in attitudes in both cyclists and motorists.

‘When you cycle and you are polite to other road users, they will respond in kind. Motorists should know that the road is for cyclists as well, but that doesn’t mean that cyclists can go all over the place,’ said Mr. Roolvink.