Orchard takes pedestrian route to recapture traffic

Street may be fully pedestrianised in future; one lane may be shut to vehicles before that

Pedestrians crossing at the junction of Orchard Link and Orchard Road. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

In its effort to remain Singapore's premier shopping belt, Orchard Road may well undertake the next phase of its journey by foot.

The iconic street could become fully pedestrianised in the future to attract shoppers to its malls, while hosting lifestyle activities and events to keep the buzz alive.

While making the stretch completely car-free is a possibility in the longer term, the road will start to expand its pedestrian spaces before that, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran said at a tourism industry conference yesterday.

For example, one of Orchard Road's five lanes could be shut to vehicles to make way for pop-up concepts, events and activities, said Singapore Tourism Board (STB) chief executive Lionel Yeo.

STB is looking into reclaiming a lane, and the one on the extreme right is the one most likely to go.

Once a magnet for shoppers, Orchard Road has been hit by a weak retail landscape and faces increasing competition from e-commerce.

It is struggling to reinvent itself, and the move towards pedestrianisation could give it a fresh boost. It was one of the recommendations made for it by the Committee on the Future Economy.

But given that it is a busy thoroughfare, the impact on road users needs to be assessed carefully, said STB's deputy chief executive Melissa Ow.

Plans are also under way to use parcels of state land, like the open air carparks in Grange Road and Angullia Park, for ad hoc events such as urban street markets and shows.

Measures being explored also include reducing visual and physical barriers along the road and a more flexible approach to regulate temporary spaces.

A "scramble crossing" will also be trialled at a major junction, such as the junctions of Bideford Road and Cairnhill Road with Orchard Road.

This will mimic the famous crossing in Tokyo's Shibuya district, where pedestrians zigzag across the multi-way cross-junction.

Orchard Road is also getting a local retail boost. To build on the success of local design collective Keepers pop-up store, a permanent structure will be built in its place at Orchard Green near Cairnhill Road.

Called the Design Incubator, the 21/2-storey building will feature more than 40 brands on a rotational basis, with a focus on new-to-market and emerging designers, accessories, small home furnishings and souvenirs. It will also house private work studios and other amenities for designers to conceptualise, develop, test-bed and commercialise their products.

The project is a joint development by STB, JTC Corporation and Spring Singapore, and will be completed by the end of next year.

Singapore lifestyle retailer Naiise was appointed through an open tender to manage and operate the retail showcase, which is projected to run for 10 years.

Orchard Road Business Association chairman Mark Shaw said that the developments were welcome news, as wider pedestrian spaces would give "more breathing room" for events, festivals and farmers' markets, and improve the street's vibrancy.

Given Orchard Road's tradition of malls carrying mainly international brands, the Design Incubator also adds a missing local showcase of the best of Singapore's offerings, he said.

"The rejuvenation plans are something we have been discussing for two years, so this is an exciting announcement for us," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2017, with the headline Orchard takes pedestrian route to recapture traffic. Subscribe