The "car-lite" Singapore, outlined in the nation's sustainability blueprint, is a future that not everyone can fully appreciate now, as alternatives (good public transport, car-sharing schemes, cycling infrastructure and walkways) are still under development. It's prudent, therefore, to pace the psychological adjustment needed - for example, via the progressive creation of car-free zones. The latest spaces to join that list, parts of the Civic and Central Business districts, will contribute to a movement here that has already swept many cities across the globe. Copenhagen, for instance, started developing pedestrian zones from the 1960s and now sees half of its population cycling to work or school daily. Singapore's green journey began in the Sixties too, but for economic and other reasons, like weather and public preference, motor vehicles continue to rule the streets.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority, while encouraging community activists to create their own "Streets for People" projects, is cautious about large-scale and regular street closures in popular areas. Considerations when creating car-free zones (like those in Orchard Road, Club Street, Ann Siang Road, Kampong Glam, Liang Seah Street and Baghdad Street) include traffic impact, safety, security and community support. These factors might have influenced the decision to bar traffic from only 7am to 9am on most of the designated roads in the Civic District and CBD on the last Sunday of each month. Only St Andrew's Road and Connaught Drive around the Padang will be fully closed till noon. Observers are right to point out that this will dampen the impact and public reach of the pilot project.
Proposed organised events at Esplanade Park and Empress Lawn might help draw more people to the areas and expose them to active lifestyles that can flourish in such street settings. But ultimately, it's the spontaneous uses of such spaces by ordinary people that will make car-free days a much-loved feature of the city. Public usage is more likely to grow as all parts of the mobility jigsaw start to fall into place - getting to and from car-free zones, the absence of choke points facing pedestrians and cyclists, enough spots to relax and sufficient time to make the most of an outing.
Regular car-free zones, even on weekdays, will call for more walkable and cyclable options that connect seamlessly with efficient public transport to travel longer stretches. Such connectivity is key if 75 per cent of commuters are to use public transport during peak hours by 2030. And supporting services are needed to streamline daily life without a car. Helsinki, for example, envisions apps to let people smoothly summon a shared car, taxi or bike, and to zero in on the next nearest bus or train. Paving the path to a car-lite future involves many players. Psychological adjustment, of course, depends largely on the individual.