Going fully car-free among plans to refresh Orchard Road

Going fully car-free among plans to refresh Orchard Road
Shoppers, pedestrians and crowd at Orchard Road on Christmas Day. TODAY file photo
Published: 12:10 AM, April 14, 2017
Updated: 12:25 AM, April 14, 2017

SINGAPORE — A decade after a road lane was sacrificed for wider pavements, the Government is looking at further narrowing the existing five-lane Orchard Road in the near term, with an eye on possibly making Singapore’s prime shopping district completely car-free eventually.

Other ideas to remake the once-famed shopping haven for tourists and Singaporeans alike include having a diagonal crossing — or “scramble walk” — at a yet-to-be-specified major junction, and minimising “visual and physical barriers” that stand between both sides of the road to enhance pedestrian connectivity. Parcels of State land, such as the open-air carparks at Grange Road and Anguilla Road, could be redeveloped to encourage new experiential concepts and more street activities.

Faced with the threat of e-commerce as well as growing competition from suburban malls, the area has lost much of its lustre in recent years, despite multi-million dollar efforts including a S$40 million makeover completed in 2009 which involved the reclamation of one road lane among other things.

Speaking at the Singapore Tourism Board’s (STB) industry conference Thursday (April 13), STB chief executive Lionel Yeo said the agency is studying plans to reclaim one lane on the road “to improve pedestrian experience and support more activations”. It is working with the Land Transport Authority on this. “We believe there are ways in which we can do this, that can still allow people who want to get to Orchard Road to be able to do so. At the same time, there are also alternative routes people can take if they just need to go from one part of the road to the other part,” Mr Yeo said.

STB deputy chief executive Melissa Ow said it was likely that the side of the street where shopping malls such as Ion Orchard and Wisma Atria sit on would be reclaimed, so as not to disturb the existing bus lanes.

She added that the authorities will be closely assessing the feasibility and impact of the move, taking into account such as pedestrian safety, risk of flooding, as well as the traffic load on secondary roads around the area.

In a speech at the conference, Trade and Industry (Industry) Minister S Iswaran said: “In the near term, we will explore ways to refresh the Orchard Road streetscape, to make it more pedestrian-friendly and conducive for street-level activities. For instance, we will activate existing parcels of State land and consider introducing a progressive road reduction programme to expand the pedestrian mall.”

Adding that the Government will work closely with the stakeholders, Mr Iswaran added: “For the longer term, we can explore the possibility of a fully pedestrianised Orchard Road to serve as a multi-purpose space where diverse and larger-scale experiential concepts can be introduced.”

Orchard Road Business Association chairman Mark Shaw told TODAY that more than just getting visitors to come to the area for shopping, the remaking efforts will provide its members “a lot more scope” to hold events. Narrowing the road will also allow businesses to “fill the space with better experiences for shoppers”, he said.

Over the years, there have been several efforts to make Orchard Road car-free on selected periods. Most recently, there was the Pedestrian Night initiative, which was started in October 2014, and returned for two more runs between July 2015 and February last year. Under the initiative, a 660m stretch of Orchard Road — from ION Orchard to Ngee Ann City - was closed to traffic in the evenings.

Back in 1989, the thoroughfare from Paterson Road to Grange Road was closed to traffic once a month, but the initiative was canned after several months as fewer events were held and public interest waned.

On the idea of a scramble walk, which will be similar to the famous Shibuya crossing in Tokyo, STB said the idea was in response to stakeholder feedback on the attractiveness of such crossings. Tt was looking at a few junctions along Orchard Road, including the ones at Cairnhill Road and Bideford Road. In Singapore, there is currently a scramble crossing at the junction of Boon Tat Street and Robinson Road, near Lau Pa Sat.

Mr Iswaran reiterted that “as consumer preferences change, and retail trends evolve, so too much Orchard Road sustain its appeal”. “The vision is to transform the precinct into a distinctive and vibrant shopping and lifestyle destination, that offers a signature street experience within a city garden,” he said.