Unless we sincerely attempt to reduce cars on the road, all other sustainable transport plans are pointless. With many developed nations dumping their car-centric city planning approach, the answer to traffic planners is absolute, that the car-centric model is a vicious cycle that spells economic and city livability disasters in this very age of urbanisation. The very way of how we shaped our cities will shape ourselves, literally. The effects of car-centric culture are prominent across a wide spectrum, from the world’s pressing global warming issue (Transportation constitutes 30% of Malaysia’s carbon footprint), to the multi-aspect costs of congestion, to national health budget, to the individuals’ stressful lifestyle. With an estimated of 20% of existing land use contributes to road infrastructure, Malaysia boasts about being the third highest car ownership in the world with 93% . However close to the South, Singapore prides with just 12% of land use dedicated to roads with a very modest car ownership of one in tenth .
Of course, let’s acknowledge that not all cities are created equal to be juxtaposed. Some cities have advantageous, pedestrian-friendly urban fabric retained historically, while some began being more motorist-centric infrastructure and urban sprawl. Some cities leverage on strong civic cultures that support public space making, while others face strong anti-cycling sentiments and have high regards on mobility ownership as a statement of wealth. Singapore in particular practices good governance with centralized agencies that oversee the entire country’s development, as opposed to Malaysia’s multilayer of governments which are often subjected to political interference. The idea of going car-lite and car road-lite is a no brainer for the land scarce state island, but there’s much more to just space constraint where metropolitans can quickly relate to. As a green building consultant and cycling enthusiast, there is indeed, an observation of serious orchestrated effort among the people, public and private realm in promoting active mobility in Singapore. Malaysia policy makers need not look further into the west but the most liveable city in Asia, Singapore .
The only way forward to make private transport irrelevant is to ensure public transport cheaper, more comfortable and more convenient. Singapore has set its eyes with the land transport masterplan 2013 (LTMP 2013), that by 2030, 8 in 10 households will live within a 10 minute walk from a train station, 85% of public transport journeys (less than 20km) to be completed within 60 minutes and 75% of all journeys in peak hours to be undertaken on public transport. This vision comes with vigorous infrastructure plans. Public transport infrastructure that is affordable and inclusive for all that obsoletes the need for frequent private transportation and excuses like hot and humid weather to walk and cycle in. However, the challenge with the aspiration going car-lite does more than excellent public transport, but rather, connecting the first and last mile. “Walk Cycle & Ride” is Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA) latest aspiration for an inclusive city with a transport system that enables a seamless integrated experience with last mile solution.
To make this happen, streets are redesigned so pedestrians, be it walking or on their personal mobility device, can co-exist with bicycles, buses, and cars. Of course, the obvious deterrent is perceived uncomfortable weather and physical capability to go car-lite. For cities that are starting to promote active mobility, a well-conceived bicycle sharing system can be effective, by providing convenient access to bicycles for short-distance trips. In fact, LTA has called a tender for the completion of bike sharing system in Jurong East, potentially to implement within the central business district and Tampines town centre together by end of 2017. It takes more than excellent built environment consideration to ensure convenience and comfort of active mobility. The familiar chicken and egg argument of supplying public facilities demand is never in the ball court, in fact multiple agencies are orchestrating a seamless environment to make car ownership financially distasteful and you don’t need to sacrifice comfort and convenience in going car-lite.
Urban planners have planned every district to be self-sufficient with its MRT cum bus interchange station, parallel to the neighbourhood amenities such as town centre market, food court, library, sports complex and one stop government services. All, within walking distance or bus ride away. Public Transport Council (PTC) continues to conduct fare review exercise annually to ensure public transport is affordable. With abundance of upgrade works to the public transport and active mobility infrastructure, the sentiments of “Walk, Cycle & Ride” campaign is well shared by the millions of daily commuters. Civic groups such as Centre for Liveable Cities think tank and grass root advocates Love Cycling SG share the success in ensuring sustainable transportation for the island nation. Engaging these groups at all stages of planning, designing and implementing of the new mobility ecosystem is imperative because fundamentally a good understanding of people’s needs and demands should form the basis for the provision of mobility services and urban spaces. With 1% of commuting done with bicycles, Love Cycling SG founders Francis Chu and Tai Woon have worked closely with the authorities’ focus group and planning workshop as well as public outreach cycling clinic activities to educate the public on being considerate in sharing the path. The grass root cycling advocate group which started 6 years ago sees a regular 40-pax weekly ride with close to hundreds during events.
The benefits of active mobility transcend beyond transportation system alone as it envisages an urban environment that encourages inclusive design across the complex social fabric especially in a metropolitan context. Architecturally, it means social justice by giving everyone an equal space to mingle with instead of being separated in slow moving hundred tonne metal boxes on the freeways. It also means, getting rid of redundant mobility devices that sits idly in huge carpark spaces that can be of better use commercially and socially. In most cities, the struggle to implement this common sense of future proofing cities is real. From cheap affordable cars, cheap fossil fuel, expensive public transport fares to lack of enforcement in parking control, just to name a few. However, Singapore is the exemplary of what an effective governance and political will in executing action plans feels like. Particularly in this aspect of active mobility, that’s essentially shaping the design of the city that benefits economic activities and peoples’ happiness in decades to come.