The Straits Times says

Creating a more people-friendly city

Steps towards a car-lite policy for Singapore appear to be gathering pace in urban-planning decisions. From July, developers will have to also consider the "safety, convenience and accessibility" of pedestrians and cyclists when conceptualising spaces. Facilities like bicycle parking, shower rooms and lockers would help make cycling and walking more attractive transport options for those frequenting shopping complexes, office buildings and business parks. The strategy can help to create a more vibrant city by offering transport systems that cater to a wide variety of tastes and needs, while being ecologically responsible. For far too long, cars have been kings of the road and status symbols. The price for this, paid by all, is a disproportionate claim on land and built space in a land-scarce country, not to mention pollution and a wasteful use of energy.

Tellingly, the visceral appetite for cars has not been dampened by the presence of costly Certificates of Entitlement, Electronic Road Pricing charges, road taxes, parking fees and high insurance premiums. What the latest developments on the transport policy scene do is to offer pedestrians and cyclists more consideration. It would be anachronistic to keep building grand porches for the use of the car-owning classes while shunting cyclists to the back of a development. That would only perpetuate the craving for cars instead of steering people towards a range of transport options that people-friendly cities tend to offer. Some happy outcomes would be more green spaces, active mobility and the easy mingling of people from all walks of life.

Particularly exciting is the possibility of seamless cycling routes connecting six housing estates that are within a 30-minute cycling distance to the city. The North-South Corridor, to better enable cycling and walking, offers a national blueprint for imaginative change. It will provide Singapore with its first integrated transport corridor that features continuous bus lanes and cycling trunk routes. This clearly is the way to go.

Such infrastructure aside, the public transport system must be up to scratch and not be measured by the length of intervals between disruptions. Singaporeans must also accept the rationale for a car-lite policy. The dominance of motor vehicles might now be seen by many as a necessity rather than a luxury, given the alternatives available. But cities are changing. Berlin, London and Paris, for example, are leading the way in moving away from a personal automobile culture. With one million vehicles, Singapore's vehicle population is nearing its peak. Unless the country wishes to go down the same road as cities where car ownership leads to paralysing traffic jams and choking smog, decisive steps must be taken now to adopt more sustainable urban models to move people and goods.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2016, with the headline 'Creating a more people-friendly city'. Print Edition | Subscribe