Make more streets people-friendly

The reclaiming of streets for people has preoccupied European and American cities for many decades. Initially, taking road capacity away from car users was seen as "a brave decision for an authority to take", as a European Commission report noted. But the impact of car-free initiatives was found to be "usually far less serious than predicted". Some of the traffic simply evaporated as motorists adjusted their behaviour and routines.

Singapore has to bite the bullet too. It is, however, taking a cautious approach in extending Car-Free Sundays in the heart of the city. Another pilot scheme will run from October, after a break. And the Urban Redevelopment Authority might expand it to the HDB heartland later.

There is every reason to let it spread its wings as car-free schemes dovetail with the objective of making public spaces more liveable, "green" and open to different forms of active mobility. Such an environment paired with reliable forms of public transport would help the nation ease smoothly towards a car-lite future.

Doubters should look at the experience of cities like Copenhagen which until 1962 saw its city centre so congested with cars that it required all the squares to be used as carparks. Now, 80 per cent of all journeys in its city centre are made on foot, and 14 per cent by bicycle.

While setting its own urban mobility goals, Singapore should press ahead with car-free schemes in more selected areas for keeps. The temporary nature of one pilot run after another might inhibit various community and business uses from springing up organically. Footfall in reclaimed spaces then becomes largely dependent on organised events. And if these run out of steam, it could work against proposals to pedestrianise suitable spots. As public spaces contribute to the overall well-being of citizens, there should be no ambivalence about putting people before cars.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 03, 2016, with the headline 'Make more streets people-friendly'. Print Edition | Subscribe