How to promote cycling culture in hot and humid Singapore: study

A joint study by Singapore planners and Danish architect Jan Gehl shows how even a hot and humid country like Singapore can have a robust cycling and walking culture

trees walkway

A new study by the Centre of Liveable Cities (CLC), the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and renowned Danish architect Jan Gehl has found that despite Singapore’s hot and humid climate, widespread cycling and walking can be achieved, which will not only make the city more liveable but enable it to reap multiple economic, social, and environmental benefits. 

By reshaping urban landscapes to be more conducive to walking and cycling, cities not only become more liveable, but they also reap multiple economic, social, and environmental benefits. 

Even though Singapore’s hot and humid climate may seem to hinder widespread cycling and walking, this culture of ‘Active Mobility’ and its attendant benefits can be achieved even here.

The study said that in order to achieve this, city planners must focus on people as a starting point. Titled ‘Active Mobility for Creating Healthy Places’, the study included findings from a collaborative research process that included workshops for participants from civil society, private sector, government agencies and academics, as well as a cycling field study around the residential Singapore neighbourhood of Ang Mo Kio. It is intended to complement Singapore’s existing National Cycling Plan, a S$43 million national initiative to improve and expand Singapore’s cycling infrastructure.

Active mobility benefited individuals, government and the private sector alike, said the study. First hand benefits included improvements in traffic congestion, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and health; these in turn had knock-on benefits, including improving affordability standards within a city, improving employee productivity, and giving the city a more human-centric, liveable feel.

These desirable outcomes could only be achieved if all stakeholders in a city put the “focus on people as a starting point”, said the study. Echoing Gehl’s previous comments at a lecture in Singapore, the study advocated a shift from a motorist-oriented approach to focusing on human-centric factors such as safety, comfort and convenience.

Based on this, the study made a series of recommendations to facilitate cycling in walking that were tailored to the needs of a densely built-up city state with a hot and humid tropical climate.

These included protecting vulnerable road users by redesigning junctions to have continuous sidewalks, planting more trees and building more shaded walkways to ensure pedestrian and cyclist comfort, and integrating cycling and walking infrastructure into public transit, to make it easy to integrate active mobility into longer commutes as well.

In Singapore, we have no choice. 12 per cent of our land is used for roads – that is almost as much as housing. We simply cannot afford to keep expanding our roads.

Khoo Teng Chye, executive director, Centre for Liveable Cities

The study also called for developers and building designers to consider installing end-of-trip amenities such as showers and laundry facilities, in order to meet the needs of occupants who practised active mobility.

“The research on creating healthy places through active mobility will not only make people healthier, but make cities more liveable as well”, said Hee Limin, director of CLC. Echoing Gehl’s observation that Singaporeans did enjoy recreational cycling on weekends, she added, “the challenge is how to bring Sunday cycling onto Monday cycling, where it could be a viable alternative to taking motorised transport. Cities will be better for it, as walking and cycling takes up so much less precious space”.

“I think there is a groundswell here”, agreed Wong Mun Summ, co-founding director of WOHA architects, a firm that was also involved in the study. “Our leaders need to listen. We need to move on to the next stage where we turn Singapore into a leading place that is friendly to the individual”, he added.

CLC executive director Khoo Teng Chye emphasisedthe need to encourage a shift away from motorised transport, towards walking and cycling: “In Singapore, we have no choice. 12 per cent of our land is used for roads – that is almost as much as housing. We simply cannot afford to keep expanding our roads”, he said.

To fulfil its objective of shaping Singapore into a more liveable and sustainable city, CLC signed memorandums of understanding (MOU) with both ULI and the Danish Architecture Centre (DAC), at the sidelines of the recently held World Cities Summit 2014. Both agreements will extend existing collaborations between the organisations to develop best practices for sustainable, liveable cities.

While the MOU with ULI will build on the Active Mobility study, the MOU with DAC will facilitate further collaboration at the leadership level, through knowledge-exchange and field visit programmes between Singaporean and Danish public service directors.

“Denmark and Singapore are two small countries, but they are both absolutely world-leading in terms of making cities liveable and more sustainable and a great inspiration for cities around the world”, noted Flemming Borreskov, chairman of DAC.

“This agreement strengthens the good relationship between the CLC and DAC further”, he added.

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