Tapping on Virtual Reality technnology to make better cycling paths

CHARLES LEE | 19th September 2016 | NEWS

The planning and designing of bicycle paths in space-constrained Singapore is never an easy task, as considerations have to be set aside for buildings, public infrastructures and other road users like motorists and pedestrians.  In a bid to build streets with user-friendly cycling paths, scientists from the Future Cities Laboratory have turned to Virtual Reality (VR) to find out how well-designed streets with safe cycling paths can influence more people to cycle.

Officially launched as part of PARK(ing) Day 2016 on Friday (17 September) along Lim Liak Street, 150 people were invited to take turns to put on a pair of VR goggles and then cycle on a stationary bicycle, which is known as the Bike to the Future.

Since its debut in 2005 in San Francisco, United States of America, the PARK(ing) Day has become an annual worldwide where parking spaces are temporarily transformed into public spaces to improve the quality of urban habitats.  Just in Singapore alone, 78 carparks were temporarily transformed into spaces for skits, games, art and craft.

The 150 subjects who tried the simulator began their virtual journey from Lim Liak Street, the very same spot where the simulator is located, and “cycled” around the perimeters of Tiong Bahru market.  However, the streets that they saw in the VR landscape were quite different from the actual ones.  Subsequently, the subjects were transported to Kim Cheong Street where they tried out a cycling path.  They were then brought to a new pedestrianised area to “cycle”.

Ms Pamela Cheng, who was one of the subjects, told The Straits Times: “I didn’t feel comfortable “cycling” on the roads with cars.  It felt safer on the cycling tracks but I was also concerned about the elderly and children around me.”

Dr Alexander Erath, who is the project leader of the engaging mobility group at Future Cities Laboratory, explained that Tiong Bahru was chosen as the landscape in the simulation activity because it is an old estate which holds a lot of potential for urban re-designing.  Dr Erath added that the application of VR can be a tool to gather public views, which can then be submitted to authorities for consideration when streets are designed and built.

The Bike to the Future will be opened to the general public on 5 October, from 9.00am to 7.00pm, at the Archifest Pavilion in Raffles Place Park.