Implementing policies that reduce car dependency and increase car-free areas is becoming more common. This is evident especially in Europe where major cities such as Madrid, Hamburg, Copenhagen and Brussels have all banned cars from some inner city areas, and are building more bicycle lanes to connect the city with the suburbs. While Singapore is a leader in urban transportation mobility, it still devotes a significant amount of resources to building roads. As of 2013, roads account for 12 per cent of Singapore's land area, only a little under housing, which takes up 14 per cent, according to official data.
With over five million residents, limited land area, rising standards of living and changing lifestyles, Singapore is also continuing to progress towards a more sustainable future. Planning for better car utilisation, more car-free areas, personal transportation options, park connectors and integrated developments will contribute to both the city's liveability and its position as a strong economic hub.
Community and public opinion are changing and the benefits of fewer cars, reduced air pollution and improved public health and wellbeing are gaining awareness. The World Health Organisation estimates that around seven million people globally die prematurely from air pollution every year. This figure excludes millions killed or injured from accidents involving motor vehicles.
In response, cities around the world, including Singapore, have come up with car-free initiatives. In Europe, Oslo has an ambitious plan to ban private vehicles from its city centre by 2019. Car-free days have reduced pollution levels in Paris, where traffic jams were reduced by almost half, and the authorities have vowed to permanently remove all diesel-powered vehicles from the city centre by 2020.
MODELS FOR THE FUTURECar-free day initiatives are a positive first step that many global cities take to gain support from the city's citizens. For example, Parisians were offered a taste of what their city might look and feel like in trial car-free days. Air and noise pollution were significantly reduced, and major arteries such as the Champs Elysees were transformed into temporary spaces for bicycles, pedestrians, events and even yoga sessions.
Singapore should be congratulated for its well-developed city infrastructure, MRT network, green park connectors, car-free Sundays, increasing cycleways and regional centres. Both government and the private sector need to be part of this change when planning and developing new projects to better meet the needs of communities, mobility, lifestyles, the economy and environment.
The new Paya Lebar Quarter here is an example of how planning, infrastructure and development can be fully integrated to encourage communities to use personal transportation devices and public transport to be part of a healthier, less car-dependent future. This urban renewal project integrates living, shopping, working, leisure, civic and green spaces with ease of mobility and accessibility. In addition to the seamlessly connected MRT stations, bus facilities and car sharing, there will also be end-of-trip amenities for office workers to freshen up after a ride, facilitating those who cycle to work.
Current government initiatives are changing the way Singaporeans travel. Accessible public transport is providing easier movement, with more Singaporeans choosing alternative travel options.
New infrastructure such as bike lanes, park connectors, multi-storey bike garages and laws that protect the safety and legal right of way for cyclists are also playing a part in nurturing a bicycle culture across many cities. The assimilation of good governance, public attitudes and infrastructure is key to moving towards a less car-dependent future. The need for private cars for everyday travel should continue to be challenged, as should the dominance of cars over people in city centres.
Across the globe, city leaders are realising the importance of planning places for citizens that provide sustainable development whilst improving connectivity, wellbeing and quality of life. Changing attitudes to focus on the benefits of healthier lifestyles, improving air quality and focusing on people's wellbeing requires a mindset of reduced car dependency. While private car ownership may seem to reflect a higher standard of living, the reality is having too many cars in our urban areas reduces it.
Cities such as Singapore can be models for the future. Integrated developments, more sustainable connected transport options and a commitment to green spaces are key foundations of success. The focus on reducing car dependency while improving the quality of our streets will dictate which cities are the winners in improving wellbeing, liveability and ultimately achieving greater economic prosperity.
This article first appeared in the Business Times on 19 May 2017.