Running short of shelter

Working with several agencies on seamless shelters can prove tricky

A gap in the sheltered walkway at Redhill. The LTA and HDB say a longer walkway will be ready by next year. ST PHOTO: RACHEL AU-YONG

So near yet so far. When it is raining and housewife A. M. Lim, 43, is stuck at the very end of the covered walkway, she would gaze at the bus stop just metres away.

"It's just a small stretch, so we won't die if we get caught in the rain," she says wryly.

"Still, it'd be nice if the job seemed less half-hearted and it actually connected to the bus stop."

Bllk 448 of Hougang Avenue 10 is not the only place with a walkway to nowhere.

Two weeks ago in Parliament, Ms Lee Bee Wah spoke of a similar case in her Nee Soon constituency, where a walkway ends 10m short of Khatib MRT station.

A quick check by The Sunday Times finds at least five instances of walkways that stop short of providing residents with seamless shelter, despite policies to link up the island to promote walkability.

One reason is boundary issues between agencies that oversee adjacent turfs of land. Ms Lee, for instance, said she was told by HDB staff they could not meet the requirements of the Land Transport Authority (LTA), which oversees the land next to the station.

The tussle seems the sort that should have been resolved by the Municipal Services Office (MSO), set up two and a half years ago precisely to prevent such problems.

At his National Day Rally in 2014, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong raised the case of a now-infamous fishball stick, which was left on a walkway for several days because different agencies owned different parts of it, and had different cleaning schedules.

The MSO was created to tackle such matters, to benefit residents who couldn't care less about which agency was in charge, so long as their estates are running smoothly.

But the MSO told The Sunday Times that Ms Lee's case was not brought to its attention, as the kinks currently are more about "infrastructure planning, rather than operational concerns".

It would step in only if the agencies cannot agree on a solution.

One reason why the matter of covered walkways can be tricky is that multiple agencies arein charge.

The LTA builds and maintains covered walkways connecting transport nodes to nearby amenities under its Walk2Ride programme. It also maintains covered linkways within road reserves or on state land.

Meanwhile, the HDB provides covered walkways linking residential blocks to precinct amenities like multi-storey car parks when designing new developments.

But after these are built, the town council maintains them. Subsequently, it can build more walkways by using its own funds, or tapping the HDB's Remaking Our Heartland programme or Neighbourhood Renewal Programme.

Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC MP Alex Yam, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee on National Development, recounted how hard it was to build a walkway under a viaduct in 2012, before the Walk2Ride programme was mooted in 2013.

"There was to-ing and fro-ing between agencies because the land was SLA's, the drains were PUB's, and the viaducts was LTA's. Finally, after much delay, we decided that the town council would undertake the project," he said.

"It was a painful process. But, I realised it was not so much inertia or unwillingness on the agencies' part, but unfamiliarity over working together on such a project."

While he sees merit in returning all non-residential infrastructure and engineering works to one agency, like the Public Works Department of the past, he adds: "The current system of area expertise isn't bad - just that sometimes better coordination could be helpful. But getting the MSO to step in would require significantly more headcount and inter-agency knowledge."

As it is, covered walkways are a costly affair. The LTA and HDB, in a joint statement, said: "As covered linkways can be expensive, at about $200,000 to $600,000 per 100m to construct, and even more resources to maintain, we have to prioritise, and may not be able to fulfill all requests."Potong Pasir MP Sitoh Yih Pin, who chairs the GPC on Transport, agreed: "You may not get what you want immediately, but sooner or later, you will."

Undergraduate Sylvia Soh, 23, suggested a cheaper solution: putting bins of umbrellas at the HDB block and bus stop, so that residents caught off-guard can "borrow" the umbrellas for the short journey. "We don't always have to take the more expensive route to get a good solution," she said, as she pulls out one to shield against the scorching sun.


WHERE: A four-lane gap between HDB blocks on one side of Redhill Road and Redhill MRT

WHAT RESIDENTS SAY: "I'd use an umbrella if I'm taking the MRT, but if my kids are with me, I'd rather use the car to get them from place to place," says Mr Tan Weiming, 39, who works in his family's F&B company.

WHAT AGENCIES SAY: "There is no covered linkway connecting Redhill MRT to the covered linkway on the other side of the main road, as the high volume of main road traffic increases the risk of vehicles hitting any covered linkway, posing a safety hazard," say the LTA and HDB. There are covered walkways along alternative routes, they add.


A gap along a pathway towards Kembangan MRT station. The LTA and HDB say a longer walkway will be ready by next year. ST PHOTO: RACHEL AU-YONG

WHERE: Parallel, uncovered pathways along Jalan Kembangan on the way to Kembangan MRT

WHAT RESIDENTS SAY: "This is the most direct path for me, so I will just bear with it, but it would be nice to get a covered walkway because it's quite a long route," says student Lim Jiayee, 19.

WHAT AGENCIES SAY: "There are existing covered linkways connecting Kembangan MRT Station to the nearby bus stop, to Kembangan Community Centre and to the nearby HDB Blks 114 and 116. Therefore, it would not be necessary to expend Government funds to duplicate the provision of covered linkways for alternative routes which commuters may choose to take," say LTA and HDB.


A walkway in Sengkang ends at a drain, metres away from the bus stop. The LTA and HDB say a longer walkway will be ready by next year. PHOTO: MARCUS TAN FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

WHERE: A walkway from Block 448 ends at a lane next to a drain, leaving residents to make a dash to the bus stop opposite Sengkang Fire Station during bad weather.

WHAT RESIDENTS SAY: "When it rains, I have to wait it out or pick up some cardboard near the rubbish bin. It's not worth risking a fall at my age," says retired engineer Sim Boon Heng, 74.

WHAT AGENCIES SAY: "The bus stop near Blk 448 was constructed in March last year. Under the Walk2Ride programme, we will provide a covered linkway to this bus stop, and this will be ready by the first quarter of 2018," say LTA and HDB.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 12, 2017, with the headline Running short of shelter. Subscribe