Saturday, 6 December 2014

Turning civic district into a walkable park - minus cars

Transformation of area around the Padang due to be completed next year
By Christopher Tan, Senior Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Dec 2014

CEMENTING a bold vision laid out in an urban master plan last year, the authorities here said work has started to reclaim the city's civic district from the car.

The area around the Padang - encompassing landmarks like Victoria Theatre, the National Gallery and Esplanade Park - will be turned into "a walkable park" within an "arts, culture and lifestyle precinct", said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan.

"Our civic district is full of history, memories, monuments and beauties," the minister wrote on his blog yesterday. "Over the years, huge assets have been assembled there, but their full potential is not being realised."

To unleash this potential, traffic access to the area will be crimped, with roads like Empress Place paved over and Connaught Drive accessible only to buses and coaches. One side of the historic Anderson Bridge will be converted to a footpath.

Most of the reconstruction - which will cost $66 million - will be completed in phases next year, in time for the various SG50 celebrations. For instance, part of Fullerton Road will be realigned to free up more lawn space in front of the Asian Civilisations Museum. Likewise, a more spacious walkway will be built along St Andrew's Road. These will be ready by next July.

Work has already started to remove kerbside parking spaces in Connaught Drive. The stretch will be paved and landscaped so people can walk, jog, cycle and skate there. Along the edge of the Singapore River, where Queen Elizabeth Walk sits, a stepped plaza will be built to bring the public closer to the water.

Harking back to the days when the area was a favourite haunt for courting couples, five Angsana trees will be planted in Esplanade Park near Anderson Bridge. They mark the spot where five such trees stood, up to 1990.

To mark SG50, an 8km Jubilee Walk will connect attractions in the area, with trail markers to tell stories of Singapore's progress.

The transformation plan is reminiscent of similar moves by cities elsewhere to claw back road space.

San Francisco did away with the Embarcadero Freeway after it was damaged by an earthquake in 1989. In its place, a wide boardwalk now fronts the bay, frequented by joggers, cyclists and those who want respite from the city.

About 10 years ago, Seoul tore down a highway to uncover the Cheonggyecheon river and create an oasis in the city.

National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng gave the plan the thumbs up. "It allows residents and visitors a greater opportunity to immerse in the city and to enjoy the city," he said. "We should have more of this."

Civic district revamp hits tour buses
Drivers can no longer wait in Connaught Drive for their passengers
By Danson Cheong And Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 6 Dec 2014

THE proposed changes to the city's civic district are expected to hit coach and tour bus drivers hard, even as pedestrians welcomed the area's upcoming transformation.

Buses ferrying tourists on city tours wait in Connaught Drive after dropping them off at Merlion Park. "This is the closest place for us to wait, because once the tour guide calls we have to get there to pick up tourists quickly or they would get angry," driver Dennis Ng, 47, told The Straits Times.

Connaught Drive, a four-lane one-way road, will be turned into a two-way road, with access limited to only coaches and buses.

Kerbside parking space on both sides of the road was removed on Tuesday, said an on-site notice put up by the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

The changes, part of a sweeping transformation of the Padang area, include widening walkways and pedestrianising certain roads. They will be completed in time for next year's SG50 celebrations.

The $66 million revamp, announced on Thursday by National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan on his blog, will turn the civic district, which includes landmarks like the Victoria Theatre, into a "walkable park".

Tour buses have been offered the off-street carpark in Bayfront Avenue as an alternative but this is almost a 3km drive from the Merlion and too far away, said drivers.

When The Straits Times visited Connaught Drive yesterday, tourist buses ranging from 22-seater minibuses to 51-seater coaches still lined both sides of the road even though the parking spaces have been painted over.

Drivers said they would wait in Connaught Drive if they were taking tourists on city tours. "This is one of the most convenient locations - it's near popular areas like Bugis," said Mr Izdham Gaffor, 27.

"(The Government) has to give us a proper alternative; we are supporting the tourism industry," he said, adding that the tour buses wait for only 20 to 30 minutes and do not obstruct traffic.

Members of the Singapore Cricket Club and the Singapore Recreation Club, sited at opposite ends of the Padang, said the move will disrupt them minimally, since both clubs have on-site parking.

Others working in the area are looking forward to the changes.

A 24-year-old artist, who wanted to be known only as Miss Tay, said the developments might make parking in the area harder but this was all right since many theatre-goers use public transport anyway.

"It will definitely make the area a lot more pleasant to walk in."

Attractions like the Asian Civilisations Museum are also looking forward to organising joint programmes with its neighbours.

"The redevelopment project has great value in returning focus to the Singapore River," said museum director Alan Chong.

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