Bike sharing calls for mental gearshift

Cities known to be cycling-friendly share some common features, regardless of whether riding a bicycle is serious commuting or meant mainly for recreation. Top of the list are a dedication to safety by providing wide cycling paths segregated from busy roads, and adherence by cyclists to good riding habits. Sharing main roads with vehicle traffic is generally avoided: It is rare in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, rated the best cities for cyclists, where pedalling comprises a high one-third share of transport. Mild weather and a flat topography are advantages, of course. Contrary to belief, mega-cities choked with cars can also be safe for cyclists (Tokyo is one) but the infrastructure must be top-notch and there has to be mutual regard among road users.

Singapore rates average in those descriptions. Many cyclists in the HDB suburbs show a disregard for basic safety, besides the perennial complaint heard about the bullying ways of car owners. That makes it all the more remarkable that Singapore has achieved reasonable success after years of promoting cycling as a park-and-ride supplement to public transport and as a means of making quick trips to the shops and eating places. If more schoolchildren are encouraged to cycle to school, it could help bring down obesity rates bugging this age group. It helps that the network of cycling paths that links up with transport nodes and neighbourhood schools is growing rapidly.

Now the Land Transport Authority is considering starting a bike share scheme in locations that may include the downtown commercial and office area. A rental service obviates the need for casual riders to invest in a bicycle, which can cost a bit for a fancy model. Bike sharing as a community habit is common in some of the biggest cities in Europe, North America and Australia for local activities.

In Singapore, the advantage could be cancelled out by the shift in mental gears that will be required. One difficulty is the lack of respect for shared communal property. There is also the prohibitive cost of building dedicated pathways in the city centre - if at all feasible - as sharing space with vehicles on main roads is not recommended. Serious accidents worldwide happen on open roads, seldom on dedicated lanes. To start with, the hire plan might be confined to suburban areas where the few hundred kilometres of existing and planned cycling paths form a ready infrastructural nucleus. Extras that will be needed include the hire-and-deposit stations to be dotted in HDB towns' commercial and recreational clusters, and safe connecting links across roads and junctions. These facilities would help give cycling a boost by making it safe, affordable, healthy, and even fun.