There is a growing consensus among developed cities that fewer cars mean less traffic congestion, less air and noise pollution, and more land for public spaces and amenities. Cities designed to encourage active mobility, such as walking and cycling, also improve mental and physical health, reduce stress, and build a strong sense of community. Overall, car-lite cities make for a better quality of life.
In Madrid, an increasing number of roads are reserved primarily for public transport. Many streets in the core downtown area have also been pedestrianized.
Meanwhile, Hamburg has developed even bolder plans – to make cars obsolete in the next 15 to 20 years. It will do so by providing reliable public transport and creating a dense network of walkable or bike-friendly green corridors throughout the city.
Closer to home, Seoul tore down a busy, elevated highway in 2003 and restored the Cheonggyecheon stream underneath, turning the area into a delightful and green public space. Its plan is to reduce car usage by 30% by 2030.
Paris, the latest to join the movement, has just had its first car-free day in September. That day, the usual smog, traffic noise and stressed drivers that characterise the city centre gave way to clear blue skies and noticeably happier people!
There have also been reports that youngsters in these cities are less inclined to own cars or learn to drive. Even in the US, home of the automobile, more and more people are eschewing car ownership in favour of shared services and public transport. This is in sharp contrast to many developing cities where the car remains very much cherished, including as a status symbol. These cities pay the price through congested roads and polluted air.
We too, want to move towards a more car-lite Singapore. We plan to reduce travel distances by bringing jobs closer to homes, with the development of regional centres outside the CBD, such as in Woodlands and Punggol.
We are also working hard to deliver a reliable, convenient and affordable public transport system. The Government is investing heavily, and major capacity and reliability improvements are underway. We will also make places and streets much friendlier for pedestrians and cyclists.
Our new housing precincts such as Bidadari and Kampong Bugis are being designed with convenient access to MRT stations and bus stops, as well as good pedestrian and cycling networks to support a car-lite lifestyle. Ang Mo Kio Town is a pilot project to see how we can adapt existing towns to be more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly.
Car-free zones have also breathed life into Haji Lane, Ann Siang Hill, and Club Street. We have received positive feedback from both businesses and the public and will extend this concept to other streets. And we have an annual PARK(ing) Day which is a fun event that allows people to enjoy the space reclaimed from street-side carparks, and raises public awareness about the possibilities of a car-lite lifestyle.
Our founding PM Mr Lee Kuan Yew had thought in great detail about what would make Singapore a pleasant, beautiful city to live in. In 1975, he said in a speech,
“… Pavements must be designed to allow trees to grow, providing shade to pedestrians, and to cut down noon-day sunshine on roads. Pavements of granolithic slabs and concrete stifle trees. They must be forbidden by law.
Some must be unceremoniously broken up.
The objective is a city pleasant, green and cool, and safety and convenience for the pedestrian.”
That was how Mr Lee in his fascinating way saw things no one else saw in his time, and boldly transformed Singapore from a third-world to a first-world living environment. Similarly, how Singapore shapes up in future will depend on us making bold choices and decisions today. Can we build on Mr Lee’s legacy of a clean and green city and his people-centric vision to transform Singapore into a city that prides itself on public transport, walking and cycling, instead of driving? We are not quite there yet, but I believe that together, we can make a car-lite Singapore a reality.
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