SINGAPORE - The Dhoby Ghaut area is set for a facelift that will be completed progressively from 2025, giving visitors more recreational options and a car-free environment to roam around.
A 500m stretch of Orchard Road between Buyong and Handy roads will be pedestrianised, while the 1.3ha Istana Park will be expanded to about thrice its current size, incorporating existing green spaces such as Dhoby Ghaut Green and the Penang Road Open Space.
Traffic from the pedestrianised stretch of Orchard Road - a one-way road that is about five lanes wide at most points - will be diverted to Penang Road, which is also currently one-way and mostly five lanes wide. The diversion will require a portion of Penang Road to be made two-way.
Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao reported last month that the National Parks Board (NParks) had called a tender for consultancy services for the enhancement of Orchard Road's green spaces.
NParks and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) told The Straits Times that the upgrading works are part of plans unveiled in 2020 to transform Orchard Road into a "lush green corridor".
The expanded Istana Park - currently located opposite the Istana's main gate - will include spaces that were previously intended for other uses. Two plots that the park will cover - including Penang Road Open Space - are zoned for commercial and residential use, while Dhoby Ghaut Green - the area between Dhoby Ghaut MRT station's North-South Line entrances and Penang Road - is zoned for commercial use.
The agencies said they will review the longer-term plans for the plots affected by the park revamp works and road diversion, adding that the pedestrianised stretch of Orchard Road will allow the expanded park to be better integrated with the Istana entrance and the commercial establishments in the area.
Within the Penang Road Open Space and the plot adjacent to it, a new orchid themed garden will be developed, while Dhoby Ghaut Green will have a nature play area.
Head of Ramboll’s smart mobility department Ray Krishna said the stretch is ideal for pedestrianisation as there are currently no vehicular access points to developments along it, with the exception of the Istana's main gate.
Noting that Dhoby Ghaut MRT station serves three lines, she added that there is potential for footfall to the area to increase and also for people to remain in the area longer, if the pedestrianised spaces are designed for ease of walking among the area's developments.
Ms Krishna said while the planned diversions may reduce the traffic capacity of the area, the proposed traffic changes offer an opportunity to improve road and junction layouts, as well as promote public transport access to the area, in line with the country's car-lite ambitions.
National University of Singapore transport infrastructure expert Raymond Ong said a study will have to be conducted to assess if an expansion of Penang Road is needed.
"One important question would be how the vehicles will be moving should Orchard Road be pedestrianised, and how many people will not drive and choose to use public transport," he added. He said the impacts of Covid-19 - such as more people shopping online - will have to be factored into infrastructure decisions.
"I believe the first priority is to design for transport mode shift than design with the assumption that all traffic will be diverted to Penang Road," said Associate Professor Ong.
He added that diversion works may need to be phased to ensure minimal impact to commuters as it takes place, and that if Penang Road has to be expanded, this could utilise existing space along the road without affecting the House of Tan Yeok Nee - a national monument.
As for the area in front of the Istana's main gate, Prof Ong said instead of a dedicated road, a multi-functional space could be inserted for use by pedestrians and closed off for vehicular access if needed.
NParks and URA said besides the expanded Istana Park, Orchard Road will also have improved pocket parks, gardens and multi-layered planting of shrubs and trees that showcases herbs, spices and fruit trees.