Thursday, 7 May 2015

The evolution of Singapore’s road signs

As Singapore celebrates its 50th anniversary, Channel NewsAsia explores how its road signs have evolved over the years.
By Janice Lim, Channel NewsAsia5 May 2015

Motorists trying to find the exit on an expressway or the next available U-turn may not realise that the precision of the lettering, size and colour of the road signs has to keep to standard dimensions laid out by the Land Transport Authority (LTA), with the aim of ensuring the signs are more visible to road users.

However, it was not always this strict.

"Way back, we already have simple traffic signs that mainly remind motorists to stop at junctions and where, certain warnings given to motorists which are very basic,” shared Dr Chuai Chip Tiong, director of Traffic and Intelligent Transport Systems Operations at LTA.

Subsequently, Singapore adopted the United Nations Protocol on Road Signs and Signals as part of an international effort to bring about a uniform road signalling system, but it also adapted to the specific needs of its road users.

Said Dr Chuai: “In Singapore, even though we do follow in general this set of requirements, we have to customise it to fit our local condition. We created Silver Zone that comes with corresponding signs. We have signs that remind motorists to slow down when they are coming to a school zone. So these are some of the signs that are made locally."

Another major revamp occurred in the early 2000s, when LTA changed street name signs from black and white to the current green and white.

“There was a need to make our signs more readable,” Dr Chuai revealed. “And readable not only by the font, by the wordings, but also make it more reflective. And even have the effect of illumination at night when you have your headlights on. Because there was better technology in terms of the retro-reflectivity sheeting and we think that it is important for us to adopt whatever new signage technology that there is."


While many of the black and white signs were disposed off, two of them are nicely tucked away in the comfort of Ms Margaret Thomas' home. Ms Thomas is the daughter of Mr Francis Thomas, once a housemaster, teacher and eventually principal of St Andrew’s School.

She shared: “My father was an Englishman who came to Singapore after Cambridge in the 1930s, loved the place, stayed, was a teacher at St Andrew's, and prisoner of war during the Japanese Occupation. He went to Japan and worked in factories there as a prisoner.

"He came back to Singapore after the war, Second World War, returned to St Andrew's and was housemaster of the boarding house, which is where he met my mother. He also became principal in 1963 until the mid-1970s when he retired. He died in 1977, he was only 65. When the school created an internal road in the 1980s, they decided to name it after him."

Ms Thomas did the obvious when LTA organised an auction of the black and white street signs in 2003.

"When I knew that they were going to auction off these road signs, I thought ‘ok great!’, I will go and try and get the sign,” she said. “I managed to get on my own, Eng Neo Avenue. That is not named after my mother. But my mother's name was Eng Neo. So I thought it will be nice since I have got my father's sign, to have a road sign that appears to be named after my mother. "


As for who makes the road signs, that job falls to LTA's many contractors. They replace defective ones as well as create new ones. The technology too, has evolved.

Director of Signmechanic Mr Kelvin Tan said: “In the olden days, they used a local grade material, where they need a big machine to fabricate, where the turnaround time probably will take a longer time. Nowadays, they have changed the technology with a better reflective, using a press roller type, which is able to do fabrication with a shorter time, it is cut down by half.

"In the olden days, we did the casting footing on-site. Nowadays, we do a fabrication within the yard, so safety can be taken care, timeline can be taken care of."

And the country's road signs are continuing to evolve as technology changes. The latest to hit the roads are variable message signs. Unlike static road signs, these signs can change their message depending on traffic conditions and come with additional colours and graphics.

How do Singapore roads get their street names?
The Street and Building Names Board was only established in 2003. In the past, street-naming fell to the Municipal Council which was later renamed the Singapore City Council.
By Janice Lim, Channel NewsAsia, 13 May 2015

Street names are important identifiers - some of them convey a sense of location, while others have historical significance.

But how do our roads get their names? That job falls to the Street and Building Names Board.

Dr Amy Khor, Chairperson of Street and Building Names Board, said: "The Street and Building Names Board's key role really is to consider and approve naming applications for buildings, estates and streets. And over the last three years, the Board has looked at a total of about 1,300 applications for naming of buildings, estates and streets."

The Board was only established in 2003. In the past, street-naming fell to the Municipal Council which was later renamed the Singapore City Council.

Mr Gopinath Menon, former Chief Transportation Engineer at the Land Transport Authority, said: "In the colonial times, roads were named by the Municipal Commissioners and the Rural Board. There was no committee, and they named it mostly after colonial persons. So you find a lot of colonial names on our roads."

Things changed after Singapore's independence. The Street and Building Names Advisory Committee was formed in 1967 and they were tasked to choose names which were more local. But a decision was made to retain street names with colonial origins.

Mr Menon said: "Changing a road name is not an easy thing. People living around it, along the road, will have to change their addresses, change their identity cards, even the lot numbers and so on. It caused a lot of inconvenience. That was one of the main reasons. And the other thing is, why deny history?"

So who goes about submitting street name applications for approval? The main players are often the Housing and Development Board, JTC Corporation and Land Transport Authority.

Dr Khor said: "Usually for public streets that are in, say, public housing estates, or in industrial estates, these names are usually proposed and submitted to us by the agency that is in charge of the overall planning of the area. And then we will consider the name, taking into account various guidelines and principles, and policies that we have set up or establish over the years and this could evolve."

These guidelines are often aligned with bigger national objectives of economic success. When Jurong was earmarked for industrial development in the 1960s, chosen names for new roads in the area reflected industry and progress. And they also took on a multi-racial flavour.

Dr Khor said: "There were names to reflect the four official languages, so if you look at the area you have, names like Enterprise Road, that's English. Then you have names like Soon Lee Road - and actually Soon Lee is 'soon, soon, lee, lee' - meaning 'smooth sailing' in Chinese. And I think they have names like Jalan Tukang, which in Malay is skilled craftsmen. And they have another road, Neythal Road I think. Actually in Tamil, it means 'to weave' and is to reflect the textile factories that were located along the road and all part of the industrial estate."

As Singapore went high-tech, naming considerations changed as well. And that's reflected in the street names at technology cluster, one-north. Roads in housing estates also changed with the times. Older ones like in Ang Mo Kio used numbers, while newer housing estates in Punggol adopted a thematic system to reinforce the area's local identity. Edgefield Plains, for example, are a reference to the vast tracts of farmland that were once Punggol.

So, what's in a name? More than just giving directional cues, street names are a reflection of Singapore's past, its multi-racial heritage and nation-building aspirations.

No comments:

Post a Comment