City infrastructures are a pretty determining way in which their history makes for lots of what sociologists like to call ‘path dependent’ consequences. Once you’ve build your expressway it is not so easy, to use a strong understatement, to reconnect the two sides of the city that this expressway divides it into.
Singapore may now have great visions for a walking and cycling friendly future, but it has to labouriously carve this future out of, or graft it onto the solidified remnants of its past visions, and these were certainly, like anywhere else, very car-centric. I accept the limitations cityplanners face, history is what it is, and resources are limited.
I love Singapore’s city centre, but the number of busy four and six lane streets cutting it up into little blocks makes exploration a frustrating experience. Countless waits for traffic lights, and a constant reminder that the motorized passers-by’s rule the space, and we, the ones that are passed-by are the underlings.
Despite lots of policy statements indicating intentions to improve the city’s walkability/cycleability, for reasons that I cannot fathom nor judge, Singapore’s urban planners are not really ahead of the curve as far as obvious measures like pedestrianizing larger sections of the core inner city, or going for drastic fixes like adding a walkable layer on top of what would otherwise be super unfriendly car territory (like the pedestrian circular bridge and the elevated walkways connected to it that Shanghai build to turn the heart of Pudong’s new financial centre, with its iconic skyscrapers, into one of its most popular tourist attractions)
For a metropolis like Singapore, the tiny bits of pedestrianized space, and e.g. the ambitions for the long overdue redevelopment of Orchard Road seem underwhelming. Although I fully accept the reality of the many constraints that its urban planners undoubtedly face, I must admit that the walk-and-cycle policy speak seems rhetorical when measured against the lack of decisiveness that their available plans reveal. When you run or cycle the city the scope for improvement is to be found everywhere. If Singapore really wants to become walk and cycle friendly, it needs to up the ante. When it decided to become a garden city, even a city in a garden, that vision was pursued relentlessly. And it has the results to show for it. Compared to that, its revamp of transportation policy seems kinda meek.
To conclude my rant let me illustrate the need for improvement with just a couple of examples: there are many spectacular areas the potential of which seems choked by the busy roads traversing them (e.g. Chinatown, but also lots of the CBD), cutting them off from a neighbouring interesting precinct (try and walk or cycle from Tiong Bahru to Chinatown, there is no ‘nice’ way to the heritage trail of Ballestier coming from Little India, talking about Little India: getting there from the Bras Basah art district side is let’s say ‘cumbersome’), or turn into a traffic jam during weekends ( again, Tiong Bahru).
And let me add some upbeat sounds to wash away the sour taste of complaining: