Barun Roy: Seamless city

Last Updated: Wed, Sep 19, 2012 19:45 hrs

When Singapore first set out, in the early 1970s, to reshape its urban future, its desire was to become a Garden City. And having eminently achieved that goal – through sustained efforts to create lush, landscaped spaces, parks, nature reserves and well-groomed roadside greeneries, covering any surface that appeared harsh or uninviting – it now has a new ambition: becoming a Global City.

The ingredients are all there: a clean and healthy living environment; advanced and highly efficient services; an increasingly cosmopolitan population; a large presence of international service firms and conglomerates; an expanding nodal role in the global economic system; superior communications and connectivity; and, of course, highly developed infrastructure. But the authorities aren’t happy. Since the reputation of a city is directly proportionate to the degree of mobility it allows its citizens, they want to raise Singapore to a level where moving around town would be like taking a walk in the neighbourhood.

New York wouldn’t have been the great city it is – or London, Tokyo, or Paris, for that matter – if, say, its museums, restaurants, music halls or business locations weren’t reachable by its citizens with the least waste of time and no pressure on one’s patience. Business doesn’t thrive in a city that’s not trip-friendly, where venturing out is a tiresome hassle and people feel better off staying at home, like they do, for example, in that nightmare of a city, Kolkata.

Singapore is trying to evolve into a city where no destination would be more than 60 minutes from home even during morning peak hours, public transport would be like having an extra car at one’s disposal, walking would be a fun alternative and no one would undertake a journey feeling harassed or pressed for time. Since private travel by car has its limits, the aim is to develop a pervasive public system in the next 10 to 15 years to support economic growth, a bigger population, higher expectations and more diverse lifestyles. The logic is simple: the more people are on the move – for work, shopping, eating or pleasure – the better it is for an economy, especially one that’s heavily dependent on services.

By 2020, when travel demand is expected to swell from 8.9 million journeys a day now to 14.3 million a day, the authorities wish public transportation to capture 70 per cent of all peak-hour journeys, up from 63 per cent at present. This means public transport choices will have to be competitive with private cars, and waiting and transit times must be pruned to the minimum. This means, buses and rapid transit railways must form a well-knit, unified system and complement each other in a seamless manner, while no one should spend more than five minutes to walk from home to a bus or railway station.

While a new, largely underground, north-south expressway – with 16 entrances and 17 exits along its 21 km stretch – goes into advanced preparation next year, three more metro corridors are on the anvil. Together, they will add 68 new train stations by 2020 to the 89 already in operation, doubling the metro network to 278 km from 138 km now. One of these, the Downtown Line, Singapore’s fifth after the recently completed Circle Line, will open in phases between 2013 and 2017, connecting the north-western and central-eastern regions to Singapore’s new downtown, Marina Bay. By 2019, a sixth line, the Thomson MRT, will come into service, linking neighbourhoods in the north, while a seventh, the Eastern Region Line, is to follow a year later to link up Marina Bay with the Changi Point Ferry Terminal.

Thus, the density of Singapore’s mass rapid transit network will jump from 31 km per million residents today to 51 km per million in 2020, surpassing what Hong Kong and Tokyo have at present and comparable to New York and London. All the new lines will be fully driverless and subterranean.

Along with massive new railway development, more transport hubs will be put in place, all fully air-conditioned, where trains and buses will converge seamlessly. According to the transport master plan, all these interchanges will have retail, commercial and service facilities so people can transact business on the run. The whole idea is to make journeys more fruitful and not simply an enforced waste of time. That’s why the emphasis also is on expanding the network of underground walkways for people to move around downtown without having to cross barriers.

As an initial exercise, seven districts have been marked as cycling towns, where residential areas will have special cycling paths and bicycle parking lots. By 2015, Singapore will have over 300 km of cycling paths, providing citizens with another commuting alternative. That will be another important step towards offering its residents and visitors a vibrant, refreshing and inviting urban experience.  

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