Pedestrianisation trials in Singapore heartland spark debate

Barriers along the stretch of Woodlands Ring Road, turning one lane into a pedestrian path and the other into a bus-only lane. The Straits Times/ANN

SINGAPORE, April 4 (The Straits Times/ANN): When she speaks to residents living near Kampung Admiralty, Sembawang GRC MP Mariam Jaafar never fails to ask about a 200m stretch of road that has sparked some contention in her ward.

In a six-month trial that began on Feb 20, barriers were put up along a segment of Woodlands Ring Road between Woodlands Drive 63 and Drive 71, converting one lane into a path for pedestrians and cyclists.

It is one of two pedestrianisation trials that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has embarked on in the heartland, and one of 60 road-repurposing projects being explored islandwide.

The pedestrianised roads can be used for both walking and cycling and are part of Singapore's ongoing push to go car-lite.

Transport experts say the trials in Admiralty, and in Havelock Road near the Bukit Ho Swee area, are a positive step. But they have been met with a mix of support and scepticism from residents.

Mariam said: "(When it comes to) supporting walking and cycling, Singapore is not as mature as some other cities both in terms of our roads and society, so there's a question of readiness. Thus, we appreciate that the approach is to trial and learn, using temporary, low-cost changes.

"It's important to me that the design process is participatory."

She told The Straits Times that LTA chose the stretch of road in her ward owing to the high concentration of elderly residents.

LTA said the trial in Woodlands gives residents and students from nearby schools, including Minds Woodlands Gardens School, more space to walk and cycle. It has also made access to Kampung Admiralty, Admiralty MRT station and other amenities safer and more convenient.

"Motorists will still have the choice of using alternative roads such as Woodlands Drive 42, Woodlands Drive 52 and Woodlands Drive 65," LTA said.

LTA said it has received about 200 responses from residents there, with many expressing support. It added that the trial has not had any significant impact on traffic conditions.

Meanwhile, reception to the project in Havelock Road has also been mostly positive so far.

The stretch of road there was selected for trial as the walkways cannot accommodate pedestrian traffic during peak hours and may be unsafe for elderly residents there.

LTA said the trials in Woodlands and Havelock Road can be made permanent earlier with support from the community.

National University of Singapore Associate Professor Raymond Ong, who researches transport infrastructure, expects pedestrians, cyclists and drivers to find a new norm, adding that the trials will likely have a "nudging effect" on how residents commute.

Whether or not the trials succeed, they will give the authorities valuable data on how pedestrians and drivers react to a more pedestrianised environment, he said.

Francis Chu, co-founder of cycling group Love Cycling SG, hopes more people will see that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Tham Chen Munn, director of business development at PTV Asia-Pacific, a traffic solutions firm, suggested embracing the call by the United Nations to reduce the speed limit on some roads to 30kmh as this reduces the likelihood of fatalities and increases safety awareness among all drivers.

Mariam said the next step will be a network of connected walking and cycling paths.

"Then you have to make people want to walk and cycle. They must see personal benefits, whether it is to their health, their travel time or their pockets. The pandemic actually is a great impetus for this." - The Straits Times/ANN

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