Journey towards a 'car-light' Singapore

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Nov 25, 2013 

THE recently released Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Draft Master Plan 2013 may be a developmental blueprint, but it is also very much a land transport road map - one which supplements the Land Transport Authority's own master plan.

It contains a strong two- pronged theme: reclaiming the city from the car, and reducing the need to commute.

The belief underpinning this theme is that Singapore - or for that matter, any city - cannot afford to focus solely on increasing capacity to address its transportation needs. To do so would mean making increasingly hefty investments in infrastructure to cater to just four hours of peak demand a day - something that is wasteful and unsustainable in the long run.

Hence, the URA's decentralisation plan - to put more jobs nearer homes - is finally gaining traction after being on the drawing board since the 1980s.

For instance, Woodlands will be a hub for small and medium- sized enterprises with a potential to create 100,000 jobs. Punggol will house a new high-end creative industry offering 20,000 jobs.

A new tertiary institute in Punggol will be part of this new ecosystem, offering research and development synergy to the new industry.

Coney Island, just across the water from Punggol, will be a recreational isle with residential developments - a miniaturised version of Sentosa in the north.

The upcoming Seletar Aerospace Park will have 10,000 jobs by the time it is completed in 2018.

Together with the maturing Tampines regional centre and Changi Business Park, they form a vibrant precinct in the north and north-east that will reduce the need for people living there to travel all the way to the city centre in the south for work. This is being replicated in Jurong East - probably the first of the live- work-play districts to be realised.

Meanwhile, the new Marina South business district - about the size of two Raffles Places - will be a dense mixed-used area. Residential apartments will share the space with office blocks and recreational centres.

Besides giving people the opportunity to live and play near where they work - which again, reduces travel demand - the plan ensures that a business district does not become lifeless after dark.

Complementing this decentralisation strategy is the plan to reduce reliance on the car.

The Marina South downtown taking shape from 2020 will be a showcase for this. Not only will the area have the highest concentration of MRT stations, but also it will be designed with walking and cycling in mind - the first in Singapore to embrace a "car-light" developmental philosophy from the ground up.

Commercial and residential high-rises there will be "fenceless", allowing pedestrians and cyclists to have unimpeded access in the area. An elevated walkway will link Marina Bay Sands to Gardens by the Bay to this new downtown - right up to the coast.

In addition, an underground maze of pedestrian walkways will allow people to move from the old Central Business District to all the major buildings in the new downtown seamlessly. The walkways will be part of a subterranean network spanning nearly 30km.

Elsewhere, the new Kampung Bugis, an area around the former Kallang Gasworks, will be another car-light housing estate. Developers will face a cap on the number of carpark spaces they can build.

An integrated transport hub will serve residents in Bidadari - an 11,000-unit residential town flanked by Aljunied Road and Bartley Road to be completed by 2025. Besides this hub, to be built next to Woodleigh MRT station, residents will also have access to Bartley station.

But more than that, plans are afoot to reclaim spaces occupied by the car. For instance, road access to the National Art Gallery, Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall will eventually be crimped to create a bustling, pedestrian-friendly civic district encompassing the Padang, Singapore Cricket Club and the Esplanade.

Up north in Punggol, the remaining stretch of the old Punggol Road leading to the jetty will be closed to traffic and turned into a heritage trail.

The area will be served by a northern extension of the North- East MRT line.

More roads will be car-free on weekends or in the evenings, expanding a concept tried out in places such as Ann Siang Road, Club Street and Haji Lane.

Dovetailing these initiatives is a plan to increase the cycling path network from 230km today to 700km by 2030. With this, a person living in Punggol can pedal to work in Tampines in 35 minutes (at a leisurely 15kmh). That compares with 14 minutes by car (excluding parking time) and 59 minutes by public transport, according to estimates quoted by the URA.

When all these fall into place, Singaporeans should commute less. And when they do, more will walk or cycle (23 per cent do so today, compared with 31 per cent to 45 per cent in cities like New York, London, Shanghai and Tokyo).

This will lead to a more liveable city and, quite possibly, a healthier population as well.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Nov 25, 2013

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