Could Singapore sign up to a car-lite future?

Singapore is already ahead of rival cities in promoting public transport, but it could free up more of its most precious resource – land – in a possible car-free future.

May 01, 2018

The city-state’s island territory means it is already densely-developed and has naturally limited road links outside its borders. It’s also far from being car-friendly; the cost of car ownership is high, which along with initiatives such as ‘car-free Sunday’ encourage locals to make use of its strong public transport network.

But could it go a step further? Danish architect Jan Gehl, a Centre for Liveable Cities Visiting Fellow, claimed last year that Singapore can and should become completely car-free.

However, a more likely future for Singapore is to become ‘car-lite’ rather than emptying the roads altogether of private vehicles, says Tay Huey Ying, head of research and consultancy, Singapore, at JLL. In a car-lite Singapore, car ownership might be limited to taxis or other private hire vehicles and essential cars for various government services.

Taking cars off the streets

One of the keys to encouraging the use of public transport, walking and cycling, is to improve first and last mile connections, the Creating Liveable Cities Through Car-lite Urban Mobility report from the Urban Land Institute and the Centre for Liveable Cities suggests. Many cities have public transport, but nodes are often too far from people’s homes and destinations.

Many cities, including Singapore, are therefore looking at two-wheel options. Its “Walk Cycle Ride SG” plan is developing cycle routes across the island and also offers grants to developers for the construction of facilities such as showers and lockers in office buildings. New technology also has a role to play; the plan also suggest that “low speed self-driving pods” could be used within neighbourhoods in the future.

Tay says: “This will help to improve accessibility of buildings without direct and immediate access to public transportation. As Singaporeans turn increasingly to alternative modes of transportation to complement public transportation, it will be beneficial for developments to incorporate bicycle paths and end-of-trip facilities.

“Several developers have already started to incorporate these into their upcoming developments. These include Lend Lease at Paya Lebar Quarter, CapitaLand Mall Trust for Funan and Frasers Commercial Trust for Alexandra Technopark.”

New government policies will help to accelerate the growth of car-free infrastructure. ”To further infuse the walk, cycle, ride culture into the city’s DNA, the Government has started to require developers to submit a Walking and Cycling Plan as part of their development applications for new projects that are expected to have high levels of pedestrian and cyclist traffic,” Tay says.

Rethinking parking facilities

The ULI/CLC report also suggests that Singapore needs to stop forcing developers to include car parking in new buildings but rather to restrict future parking and to charge more for existing parking. Instead, buildings with “excess” parking could be granted planning permission for more commercial space in order to convert underutilised parking spaces to alternative uses.

Furthermore, in future, buildings without car parks could provide more valuable office, residential and retail space, while existing car parks could be converted. At present for example, most private residential estates have one car parking space per apartment, but many of these are not used.

Tay suggests that the use of some buildings could change as travel patterns and habits change, as Singaporeans use the car less. “The progression towards a car-lite nation would mean that real estate players and stakeholders have to re-learn the art and science of real estate development and space planning to cater to the needs of their occupiers and visitors arising from this lifestyle change,” she adds.

But what might happen in the unlikely event that Singapore does become completely car-free? Simply put, land and buildings previously used for car-related activities and services such as auto showrooms, auto repairs, servicing centres, roads and car parks will be freed up for other uses, Tay says.

“There will be greater opportunity for more community spaces, and Singapore would have more land to house a larger population. There might even be opportunity for home sizes to increase again as the availability of more land for homes could help keep land and home price appreciation in check,” she concludes.