While the many park connectors and cycling paths have made Singapore more bike-friendly, the true questions remain:
Where do I go? How do I get there? And what about public toilets and rain shelters?
A group of students from the Singapore Management University (SMU) were hoping to spur locals to hop on a bike by addressing these questions, quite literally, in the palm of your hand.
Team NAWTY, comprising five third-year students from the School of Information Systems at SMU, developed the LOOP cycling app for smartphones. Designed for the recreational cyclist, the app combines a route planner, crowdsourced cycling routes, a fitness tracker, and a map that consolidates amenities. The idea is to mount your iPhone or Android device to the handlebars of your bike, fire up the app, and begin your adventure.
From left to right: Leong Wei Kong, 24, Yeam Wee Kian, 23, Annabelle Victoria Ong, 21, Koh Lian Chee (their instructor), Teo Teck Jin, 25 and Nicholas Tan, 24 at the Carfree Sunday
“We realised that there was a lack of consolidated information for cyclists, so we wanted to create an application that was able to address their needs,” says Leong Wei Kong, the developer on the project. Rather than working on a project that used data for data’s sake, the team focused on the user to change behaviours.
Quick and safe
The main feature of LOOP is its route planner. You can key in your starting and final destination, and the app will figure out the quickest and safest routes between the two. For the latter, it directs cyclists onto park connector networks and cycling paths instead of having them roll out on the main roads. And unlike a regular GPS navigator, LOOP does not bleat out directions – rather, the app gives users the flexibility to explore their environments.
Besides that, the app also presents cycling routes submitted by users – you can submit one, too – that are updated through comments and reviews. “Cyclists are able to warn other users about, say, construction works or cracks and puddles [along the routes],” adds Annabelle Victoria Ong, the project manager of LOOP.
But perhaps its most unique feature is the map. Public toilets, water points, rain shelters, and even bicycle lots and repair shops in and around Singapore’s parks and park connector system are consolidated onto an easy-to-use map within the app. That was the idea of Nicholas Tan, a front-end developer on LOOP and the team’s most experienced cyclist.
“I use the Eastern Coastal Loop and North Eastern Riverine Loop quite often. But sometimes while cycling, my friends and I have no clue where the nearest public toilets or drinking fountains are. So we included a feature in the app to solve that problem,” says the 24-year-old, adding that one of his aims in designing LOOP is to encourage others to follow in his bike tracks and use those two routes.
Bumps along the way
The nine-month process building the app saw the team finding ways to bridge the city’s car-lite aspirations with users’ perceived difficulty in cycling. They started by surveying more than a hundred cyclists. Among those who considered themselves casual cyclists, the group found that “not knowing where to go is their biggest issue”, shares Yeam Wee Kian, the back-end developer.
The solution? Plugging LOOP into the open street map of Singapore, an open-source city map with regular crowd-sourced edits and information on public amenities funnelled from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and National Parks Board. In other words, the app compiles data that would have otherwise taken a cyclist multiple online searches – and far more time – to plan a trip.
Weeks of coding later, the testing phase began. Teo Teck Jin, the quality assurance leader who confesses to only riding a bike “once a year”, would borrow a two-wheeler from his school and hit the pavement from SMU to Chinatown. Problems arose at the very first hump.
“Each time I cycled over a hump, the ‘undo typing’ dialogue box [on my iPhone] came out,” recalls Teck Jin. “In case you’re not an iPhone user, that box gets triggered whenever you shake the phone. It turned out that we had not configured the keyboard motion gesture settings during development. It just goes to show that there’s no such thing as over-testing, and that the best way to do so is by observing the users.”
Towards a bike-friendly city
The app launched at the end of last year, and more than a thousand cyclists – even a few skateboarders – have already signed up. And Team NAWTY hopes that the data the app collects will help to make the city more bike-friendly.
“In order to make Singapore more cyclist-friendly, policy makers need to understand more about cyclists, where they would usually cycle, shortcuts, and if they had any suggestions for routes,” explains Annabelle. But since the most popular app for cyclists, Strava, appeals to the more hardcore pedaller, casting the net wider to include the mainstream audience means, the LOOP team hopes, more data.
Annabelle and her four teammates hope key agencies will find data data via the app useful, which “will allow them to better understand cyclists’ behaviours”. And if that happens, perhaps it would lead to even better biking roads, paths and amenities than what we already have. Ultimately, through LOOP, the Team NAWTY wants is to make cycling more recognised as a means of transport.
Experience two different cycling routes and adventures from the app through photographer Joseph Nair. Download the LOOP app on iTunes and Google Play.