Going underground Cyclists will soon be able to park their bikes safely at Singapore´s first fully-automated, underground bicycle-parking system biceberg

JACQUELYN To use the biceberg system, a cyclist opens the kiosk door with a smart card and places his bike inside a container. PHOTO: BICEBERG UNTIL recently, the suggestion for an underground parking lot for bicycles - think basement carpark, but for pedal-powered two wheelers only - would have been met with bemusement in Singapore. But the mindset here is certainly changing. Cycling is increasingly seen as a sensible mode of urban transport. More are taking to bicycles to get around this compact, car-filled city. At least three bike-sharing services have launched here in just the past year. And soon, cyclists will be able to enjoy the Republic´s first fully-automated, underground bicycle-parking system. Sited at Kampung Admiralty (a new "modern kampung" HDB housing concept for seniors), the system is a trial by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to promote cycling as a way of life among Singapore residents. Why Admiralty? Apparently, it´s home to a growing cycling population. If the trial proves successful, LTA said this could be extended to other locations. In the meantime, the underground bike park is being built and is slated for completion this year. Designed by Spanish company biceberg, the bike park will be able to store some 500 bicycles - it comprises three drums, each one 12 metres in height below ground and can hold 167 bicycles. The park works by collecting bikes from and returning them to street level - in under 30 seconds each time. To boot, it can also store accessories such as a helmet or backpack, like a safe or locker. Its founder Jaime Palacios said his system will encourage cyclists to make use of all the equipment necessary to commute safely, such as helmets, lights and gloves. "It reduces anxiety and stress by guaranteeing that at all times, your means of transport, as well as your other objects, are perfectly safe. You no longer need to worry about tracking your bike, having left your saddle behind, or returning to find your bike damaged or wet, or parts of it stolen." The system is pretty intuitive to use. All a cyclist has to do is use a biceberg kiosk on ground level. Insert a smartcard into a terminal, enter a code, and choose the "park bike" option. This will open the kiosk door, revealing an empty container. Lodge the bicycle - rear wheel first - into the container, and place accessories on the container´s floor. When the door closes, the container will be lowered and stored inside the bike park. LTA said parking charges have not yet been determined. Underground is where the "magic" really happens. Containers - each of them watertight - are arranged side-by-side in a circle, leaving a gap the size of a container. The circles are stacked to form a cylindrical structure. When a cyclist requests bike storage, biceberg´s system will find an empty container in a circle and take it to the ground level by spinning the circle till the gap on all the circles align before moving the empty container up the shaft. The company promises that its system offers a "100 per cent guarantee" against burglary - a credible claim considering that access to the bike park is by means of a smartcard paired with a personal code. Underground parking for bicycles is space-efficient - with biceberg´s system, as many as 92 bikes can supposedly fit in a space occupied by four cars. It also saves land that would otherwise be used for at-grade bicycle parking, which can be undesirable as bikes are exposed to the elements, vandals and thieves. Speaking of safety, biceberg uses a microwave radar system that prevents the storing of unauthorised loads (such as living beings) and will reopen the door until the load is removed. Mr Palacios, a technical architect and avid cyclist, said: "The bicycle has evolved throughout its history only in terms of its own technical aspects, but not the safety and infrastructure around it. It remains a vulnerable object that is easy to steal, and the infrastructure planned for cycling is limited to bike lanes and cycling routes." The Spaniard believes that biceberg holds the answer to both safety and infrastructure, as it offers a secure storage chamber for bikes, which will lead to their improved maintenance and durability. "This is fundamental for the promotion and rediscovery of the bicycle as a means of urban transport, both public and private." If you think about it, biceberg is reviving and bettering an archaic, human-powered means of transport that was invented in the 19th century, which today competes with 21st-century, modish vehicles such as driverless cars and drones. Nonetheless, the humble bicycle, as a piece of machinery, has remained remarkably similar to its original form, and is presently the smartest, fastest and cheapest way to get between two points in a city. Sometimes, retro can make a great comeback.

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