Amsterdam is an urban cyclist’s dream. The city’s dedicated bike crossings are painted bright blue to grab motorists’ attention. Cyclists have their own turn lanes at intersections to avoid conflicts with cars. A temperate climate gives cyclists days of beautiful skies under which to bike all year long. (See videos below)
In Singapore, recreational cycling is common, but the design of major roads still favors cars over people. Cultural biases persist against cycling and walking as modes of everyday transport. And high temperatures and rain often force people to take cars, trains, and buses to get where they need to go.
So, could Amsterdam’s bike-friendly culture be replicated in Singapore, a population-dense city-state of 5.3 million where prosperity in the 1970s gave rise to car culture? Yes—but it must be in a way tailored to the unique challenges of tropical environments, according to Active Mobility for Creating Healthy Places, a report published by ULI and its research partner, the Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC). In June, at the World Cities Summit in Singapore, the two organizations renewed their commitment to producing research together on what makes cities vibrant and sustainable.
Active Mobility is the result of two hands-on research workshops held in Singapore by ULI and CLC. In March, private and public sector leaders joined civic groups and cycling advocates to discuss ways Singapore can increase active mobility among its citizens through infrastructure improvements, public information campaigns, and, if necessary, new laws.
Active modes of transport not only contribute to cleaner air and water, but also create connections between neighborhoods and offer residents enriched urban experiences, explained Scott Dunn, vice president of AECOM Singapore and the project’s co-lead.
“Cities that rank high in livability allow citizens choices among multiple modes of travel that are convenient and easy to use,” he said. “Walking and cycling allow for a person to connect to the city on a human scale to promote social interaction.”
Discussion leaders brought everyone up to speed on the state of Singapore’s cycling and walking infrastructure. Although 12 percent of Singapore’s land mass is used for roads, cyclists account for just 1 percent of modal share.
Professor Jan Gehl, a Danish architect and pioneer of people-focused design, led 55 participants on a bike tour through Ang Mo Kio, a typical residential town, to experience for themselves the difficulty of navigating roads designed for car traffic. Participants encountered inadequate bicycle parking facilities, a lack of safety and convenience when crossing at intersections, and fast-moving “mini-highways” where cycling felt risky.
Gehl said Singapore is the perfect place to test whether active mobility could be moved beyond the realm of recreation—transforming Sunday cycling into Monday cycling, as the report puts it. Because it has a robust network of trains, Singapore is well on its way to getting more cars off the road. Yet more work needs to be done to integrate cycling into people’s daily commute.
“I could see the state of Singapore as being the best place in the world for public transportation combined with bicycling,” Gehl said in a local radio interview. “But that means we shall have room in the trains for bicycles. . . . Then you have a system, not only a little ride here and there.”
Turning Singapore into the Amsterdam of Asia won’t happen overnight—and isn’t even the point. Far from it. Mayor H.E. Ridwan Kamil of Bandung, Indonesia, explained that persistence, education, and understanding local customs are essential to changing minds. As Gehl noted, “It takes time for bicycle culture to develop.”
To access an online version of the report, visit www.clc.gov.sg/Publications/booksandreports.htm.