Some way to go for cycling path network

Using park connectors to cycle to work every day not the smoothest ride yet

A faded park connector sign (above) in Woolands and a printed one seen along the Ulu Pandan connector. -- ST PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG
A faded park connector sign (above) in Woolands and a printed one seen along the Ulu Pandan connector. -- ST PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG

A day may come when cyclists will be able to use Singapore's growing network of cycling paths to commute from home to their school or workplace.

For now, though, it is not exactly a smooth ride for those who try.

This was what The Sunday Times found when three reporters rode their bicycles some 180km over three days, to check if the cycling path and park connector networks work for the daily commute.

The Government is building a 700km nationwide cycling network by 2030, which will include both park connectors and cycling paths in Housing Board towns.

There are now about 250km of park connectors under the National Parks Board (NParks), with more to be built.

Cycling paths have also been built in estates such as Tampines and Sembawang, as part of a plan to eventually create a comprehensive cycling network in all 26 HDB towns.

On Saturday, Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Transport Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim unveiled Ang Mo Kio, Choa Chu Kang and Toa Payoh as the next towns to have their own cycling paths.

When park connectors were first built in 1992, they were meant mainly for leisure. More recently, Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan cycled on the existing network and said he hoped to one day be able to ride from his Ang Mo Kio home to his office in Maxwell Road. He cannot do that yet.

From Ang Mo Kio, the park connector goes only as far as Kallang Riverside Park and Upper Paya Lebar, The Sunday Times found. But those who live in Ang Mo Kio and Bishan and work at the Upper Paya Lebar Road factories can cycle to work along an 11km stretch that goes through Potong Pasir, Kolam Ayer and Circuit Road.

They will have to contend with six overhead bridges, three of which do not have ramps and that means hauling their bikes up and down the stairs. The journey can take up to 45 minutes.

Although the six sections of the park connectors in Singapore are not linked, it is possible to cycle between some towns.

For example, a cycling path sheltered by overhead MRT tracks connects Woodlands, Sembawang and Yishun, making for a 30-minute bicycle ride from Woodlands to Yishun, including waiting times at traffic junctions.

Elsewhere, the existing network is not an entirely smooth ride, with snags at some sections of the park connectors:

  • Cyclists and pedestrians jostle for space at some stretches in Bukit Batok and Bukit Panjang where the connectors are actually existing pavements.
  • There are hazardous spots. One reporter skidded and fell in Mandai where the path was slippery from algae and moss. Another fell in Bedok, while negotiating a section with sharp, narrow bends.
  • Cyclists can get lost in some areas, and online maps are not always easy to use. There are inconsistencies in the mobile applications by NParks and the Land Transport Authority - some paths are available on one but not the other.
  • Directional signs are lacking or faded in some places. In Ulu Pandan, a sign consisted of a printed sheet wrapped in plastic. NParks said a permanent sign will be put up in a few months' time.

Pointing out limitations in using the network to commute, transport researcher Alexander Erath of the Singapore-ETH Centre in University Town said some stretches are off the beaten track, away from shopping malls or homes. These are good for leisure, not commuting.

Banking software consultant Calvin Boo cycles more than 7km daily from his home near Dunearn Road to his office in the Central Business District via the road. While there are no park connectors he can use, he also feels they are often a "convoluted way" of getting around.

The 43-year-old said: "Even if they get me from A to B, I probably cover more distance than if I used the road. They're still not ideal for commuting to work."

As more riders take to the expanding network, The Sunday Times' check showed that attitudes need to change too.

Pedestrians and cyclists have to be more aware when sharing space. It helps if pedestrians keep left on shared paths, and cyclists slow down and overtake only if there is enough space to do so.

The riding team experienced several near misses and one mishap.

In Punggol, a dating couple held hands and walked along the cycling path at night, instead of staying on the empty footpath nearby. The reporter cycled around them, only to collide with a cyclist coming from the opposite direction, who was travelling without lights.

Software engineer Yeo Boon Chun, 40, who cycles 4km from his home at Old Airport Road to his office in Paya Lebar up to four times a week, uses a mix of park connectors and the road.

He said the condition of some parts of the park connectors could be improved, and the fewer stops cyclists must make, the better. "I'm looking forward to the round-island connection," he said.

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