Decided to take advantage of the fact that most Chinese Singaporeans will be busy visiting relatives today to try the Eastern Coastal Park Connector Network, in the hope that the paths would be relatively clear.
Tampines seemed to be the nearest point on the network from my house — I just had to take Tampines Road all the way. I decided to go clockwise: Tampines – Pasir Ris – Loyang – Changi – East Coast Park – Siglap – Bedok – Tampines.
Tampines Road was a surprisingly nice ride. There was little traffic at 7+ in the morning, and there aren’t any particularly dangerous filters. I was a little worried about the TPE filter but it’s only a one-lane filter so it posed no serious danger. I caught a nice post-sunrise shot across from the airfield:
On to the PCN proper. The part from Sun Plaza Park to Pasir Ris is nondescript. I recall a nice stretch along a canal but also an annoying stretch through a park with extremely sharp humps. Since I had a full Nalgene of water in my bag on the front rack, every time I went over a hump or similarly sharp protruberance, I would land with a rather disturbing clang, and I could feel the clang through the handlebars. Close to Pasir Ris Park I assumed that the connector to the Loyang bit went through Pasir Ris Park, so I ended up chasing a dead end into the park itself. At the easternmost end of the park I finally fished out the maps and figured out that I was supposed to turn right at one of the roads I’d crossed. From that point on there is an extended stretch of cycling on a “bike path” beside the footpath beside the road. Since there were relatively few pedestrians today I could still go pretty fast, but regular bus stops and traffic junctions in the way still limited my speed significantly. The thing about traffic junctions when you’re on the bike path is that you are supposed to wait for the pedestrian crossing sign, which in turn comes on only if you hit the button on the traffic light post. If you’re cycling on the road, you can just go straight through when the vehicular lights are green. If you’re on the bike path, you are supposed to wait even if the vehicular lights are green, because you temporarily ‘count’ as a pedestrian. The pedestrian lights typically turn green only at the beginning of the next ‘green’ vehicular light cycle. This made progress through Pasir Ris and then Loyang rather slow. In particular, there were some interminable waits in Loyang. After watching a few groups of roadies zipping through the green lights while our pedestrian lights remained steadfastly red, I started craving to get on the road myself. It didn’t help that there was a group of mountain bikers behind me, who were significantly slower than me but would catch up with their noisy chatter at every traffic light. So when the bike path on the left side of Loyang Ave mysteriously ended (it’d crossed over to the right but I’d missed the crossing somehow), and I found myself stuck on the narrow pedestrian path behind a few slow construction-worker-type cyclists, I decided to hop on the road. I probably got to Changi Village faster than it took the bikers behind me to cross the road.
I knew that the connectors passed through Changi Beach Park, so I made my way there. The place was like a refugee camp — it was covered with tents. Luckily it was still rather early in the morning so the path was not too clogged. I made my way to the Coastal Park Connector without any aggravating incidents.
The Coastal Park Connector is my favourite bit. I’ve done the traditional roadie route along Changi Coastal Road before, and didn’t really like it — boring and too many trucks. The Coastal Park Connector is alongside Changi Coastal Road most of the way, but at least you don’t have to deal with the heavy trucks. Again, there was almost no one using the connector so I could go pretty fast. Stopped several times to take photos of the trail, which was nicely shaded by a “green umbrella” of trees:
After the Coastal Park Connector is East Coast Park. The first bit is a new section of trail that wasn’t there a few years ago. The old ECP trail used to terminate just before the SAFRA resort. Now there it extends past it, and surprisingly there was almost no one using this section as well. I loved this bit because the newly laid tar gave that smooth ‘buttery’ feeling when it seems like there’s no friction impeding your spinning at all. Sadly, it lasted only about 500m before we were back to the ‘normal’ section of ECP, with its companion crowds. I was peckish so I stopped at Burger King for food. Shortly before Burger King there is a sign saying ‘park connector’. Since I had not seen any other such signs throughout the coastal stretch, I assumed this was for the Bedok section. I wanted to be perverse and do the longer Siglap section, so I told myself I’d head further west and try and find the fork to it. However, after resting a little at Burger King I became lazy and decided to just fuck it and follow the sign I’d seen. Good choice, because it turned out that that was the Siglap park connector — I had completely missed the signs (if there were any) to the Bedok one.
My experience rapidly went downhill from this point on. The Siglap section was well-signed and I didn’t get lost, but there were crossings every 200m. The little bit of the Bedok section I had to pass through was terrible. First, you have to carry your bike over a bridge (no ramp), and it’s hard enough to figure out that you’re supposed to cross the bridge, thanks to the following misleading signage:
I thought at first that one was supposed to go forward (from my perspective) in that photo, but it turned out that one was supposed to climb the bridge behind me.
I also got really tired climbing the bridge. Maybe it’s because I’d climbed at least 134 HDB storeys yesterday, but I became more breathless than I’d expected.
At the other side of the bridge is a park. No signage telling you which of the available paths to take, so I just took the one that seemed to be going in the general direction I’d been going in. This turned out to be correct.
Where I really got lost was at Bedok Reservoir Park. At the crossing just before the reservoir, the bike path ends and there is no pointer to where one should proceed next. The map nearby doesn’t help either since it merely indicates that the connector ends there! I guessed that one was supposed to enter the park, so I did so, and cycled on the gravel path for quite some time. Now there were occasional signs telling us how much further to the next path connector. That was comforting until the signs stopped appearing. Once again, I took a guess and continued down this reassuring bike path that’s beside but elevated from the gravel path. It was a wrong move — I should have stopped at one of the corners of the reservoir, where, if you head towards the traffic junction there, the signage for park connectors resumed. After faffing about on my wrong path for 20 minutes or so I finally found the signage. But I got lost again almost immediately after. What happens is that you go down a short slope, and there’s an inviting looking path beside a canal that’s the most obvious route to take. However, it leads to a dead end. What you’re supposed to do, to get to Pasir Ris, is make a sharp turn that goes back up the slope you just came down. This will take you over a bridge over the canal to the other side, where signs tell you to go on straight to Pasir Ris.
That was the last point of navigational difficulties for me. The Tampines portion was very well-signed. I’m still skeptical of the value of the bike paths beside the pedestrian paths. Indeed, there are “please dismount and push” signs every 100m or so, and probably no one obeys them, otherwise they’d never get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time. There were few pedestrians about so I had a relatively smooth ride, but I can see there being trouble during peak hours.
The path abruptly ended at Tampines Ave 7. Apparently, we were ‘at’ Sun Plaza Park, from which you can find the Pasir Ris connector, but there wasn’t a park in sight. I decided I’d enough of elusive, poorly signed connectors for the day, so decided to just take the roads all the way home. From Ave 7 it was a short ride to Ave 9 and then Ave 10 and Tampines Road and home. The wind was behind me on Tampines Road and the hills seemed rather less vicious compared to my outgoing ride. I actually enjoyed that part despite being rather sick of being in the saddle.
Verdict: the Coastal part is a nice ride for leisure, but for commuting purposes (and, should I ever get drawn into the sport, for road biking/triathlon purposes), I’ll stick to the road, thank you.
N. B.: Should I ever be masochistic enough to try the Bedok area connectors again, this map of the network would probably serve a lot better than the NPB’s cartoonish maps.