Singapore

Top cities shifting towards car-lite future

Singapore should redouble efforts to reduce car dependency

What does a day with reduced car dependency mean for a city?

While it might appear impossible at the moment, there are early signs pointing to leading cities having a "car-lite" future.

Today, we are seeing commuters walking or cycling more, and electric bicycles and kick scooters becoming common modes of personal transportation.

Technology also means we can now plan our travel, share trips and achieve much higher levels of efficiency and service without the need for more cars. The car-lite movement is seeking to shift city-state transportation towards a more integrated, greener co-sharing model with citizen-focused mobility solutions.

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.

In Europe, Oslo has an ambitious plan to ban private vehicles from its city centre by 2019.

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 authorities have vowed to permanently remove all diesel-powered vehicles from the city centre by 2020.

MODELS FOR THE FUTURE

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 (developed by Lendlease) 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.

Changing attitudes to focus on the benefits of healthier lifestyles, improving air quality and focusing on people's well-being 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.

The writer is managing director of Development at Lendlease Asia. This article was published in The Business Times yesterday

Cartransporthealth