Bukit Brown crossroad – a viable alternative

~ By Goh Si Gium ~

With the increased population in Singapore, we envision more land will be taken up by necessary infrastructure. Areas occupied by roads will also have to grow in order to accommodate the concomitant growth of the car population – which we recognise that the relevant agencies have implemented various measures to manage and curb this growth.

Over the years, these measures have included improvements to the road systems and the initiation of the ERP. At the same time, efforts have been made to make public transportation palatable to a wider section of the population – the greatly-expanded rail network being a case in point.

However, it has been demonstrated that these measures, touted as ways to slash or curb car numbers, have been largely unsuccessful. It must also be recognised that the car population cannot be allowed to grow unabated, especially when there is fierce competitive uses for limited land, and a measure of proportionality must prevail.

Regardless whether it is skewed one way or another, any measure should be for the greater good of the majority.

In this instance, an 8-lane highway is to be built that would allow for a smoother flow of traffic over a short stretch of road. This is essentially to address a localised problem for some transient periods of time. This problem could also be contributed by heavy and slow traffic-flow in regions immediately adjacent to Lornie Road. We ponder its necessity and its ability to ameliorate the bottleneck encountered here and further afield, in areas leading to and leading away from Lornie Road.

These glacial traffics hinder the flow of vehicles, including public buses which serve a greater proportion of the commuting public (and with schedules being disrupted as a result, it is not surprising that public transportation has been branded as unreliable).

Alternative Proposal

An alternative passage to the PIE could be implemented that alleviates congestion experienced along Lornie Road and its vicinity. With the continuing expansion of the rail network, it is also time to overhaul the overall measures in place to manage the car population.

The traffic coming from the north-east region of Singapore is largely channelled to the PIE via Lornie Road. The main axes leading to Lornie Road are Bartley Road, Upper Serangoon Road and the CTE, through Braddell Road. Lornie Road also receives substantial traffic coming down from Upper Thomson Road, serving the heartland areas of Bishan and Ang Mo Kio. 

Traffic going down Adam Road could may also be slowed down by the busy Farrer-Bukit Timah junction while the slip roads from Lornie Road into both directions of the PIE may be inadequate to support the volume.

Furthermore, the PIE itself may have been overwhelmed by heavy traffic, streaming from the east and city areas, as well as the north via the CTE. This, in turn, slows down the traffic joining and leaving PIE at that junction. Add to this the several schools that are situated around Whitley Road and Bukit Timah Road, and parents dropping off and picking up their children impede traffic further.

The confluence of these factors result in the entire wider area around and linked to Lornie Road being in the same state, slowed to a crawl during the peak hours!

In reality, Lornie Road merely serves as a conduit to channel traffic from one congested area to another where motorists passing through the snarl along Lornie Road still finding themselves inching their way through many of the consequent roads with their myriad of intersections. During the peak hours, the traffic exceeds the carrying capacitiy of Lornie Road and others that are either feeding traffic into or draining traffic from it.

Some Solutions

The lighted junction of Sime Road and Lornie Road serves the needs of just a small number of cars leaving the SICC, yet it contributes substantially to the congestion. This lighted junction should be done away with.

The capacity of the PIE can be doubled with an extensive viaduct built over the expressway (akin to West Coast/Pasir Panjang Road and Upper Serangoon Road, near Lor Lew Lian) as a two-tier highway.

With the approach of leaving Bukit Brown entirely intact, a viaduct can start from the Thomson/Marymount/Braddell junction area (marked as Junction A in the map below) above Thomson Road, head southward towards the old Police Academy, and swing west at the corner along the PIE, west of the Thomson Flyover (marked as Junction B in the map).

A slip road can allow traffic to join the PIE towards the East while a viaduct follows the course of the PIE over Mount Pleasant Flyover (marked as Bottleneck 2) and Adam Flyover (marked as Bottleneck 1). This viaduct could rejoin the PIE somewhere before the Eng Neo Exit (or even before Exit 22).

Alternatively, it can continue westward to reach the BKE as well. Towards the east, this viaduct can link up with the CTE and perhaps continue beyond. Such a viaduct would allow for a large part of the east-west traffic to avoid the junctions in question that are feeding traffic into the PIE or bleeding traffic to the surrounding regions, thus allowing some unhindered traffic on the viaduct that enables motorists to bypass junctions and exit roads that have no relevance to their journey. At the same time, these measures de-congest the PIE itself, easing traffic flow in and out of peripheral roads.

This suggestion is not unlike the existing West Coast/Pasir Panjang Road viaduct and Upper Serangoon (passing Paya Lebar Methodist Church) viaduct that allow motorists unimpeded travel.

Change Road Planning Strategy

In addition to this specific recourse, doubling the capacity of main carriageways through multi-tier methodology should be carried out more widely as it allows the capacity of existing land devoted to roads to be harnessed by several hundred percent. This approach allows the conversion of new land to roads to be avoided, enabling existing land space to retain its present purpose benefit to other segments of the population (i.e. other than motorists). In essence, we can ‘double exploit' the thousands of square kilometres of existing road surface that already cover a substantial amount of land in Singapore.

With direct reference to Bukit Brown, the grounds should be left in its existing state. The value of natural greenery can be easily quantified by its biodiversity, climatic and environmental moderation, aesthetic and therapeutic benefits. But the quality matters a great deal too. While open grasslands such as golf courses are greenery too, they are not substantive and lack diversity and biomass.

Spaces need to be set aside for times when the populace is not involved in contributing to the GDP. Nature areas play valuable roles although they seem idle. Their contribution to the GDP is by providing the counterbalance to a hectic lifestyle that can rejuvenate the people. They also contribute to the GDP through healthy productivity and optimal consumption of resources.

Nature heals in mysterious ways. Sometimes unquantifiable, they nevertheless have immense power and value and contribute positively to the national ‘pie’ – our economy.

Overall, the proposed highway through Bukit Brown will not alleviate the jam if the downstream hiccups are not done away with. Looking at an even wider area, the traffic snarl in fact covers areas greater than just Lornie Road itself. In fact, the highway could result in a greater volume of vehicles being trapped and crawling through the jam, thus spewing toxic gases into the atmosphere. It is rather apparent that a more comprehensive study is needed for a proper solution to be formed.

On a wider perspective, it is a very expensive undertaking to accommodate more cars on our limited road system – in terms of the resources and their impact on the health of the environment and the population.

Perhaps a more comprehensive panel with a macro-level view can relook the overall infrastructural needs and gather consultation from many segments and experts. Such a panel should duly and rigorously explore all ideas, concepts and projections – however mundane or radical – and not hastily dismiss any.

The relevant agencies must be forthcoming in seeking expert input – even the non-mainstream ones. Pertinent information must also be freely shared so that the consultation can cover all aspects beyond the immediate concerns. Only then can a convincing outcome be achieved – one that is acceptable to all.

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Headline photo by Catherine Lim, courtesy of All Things Bukit Brown

This article first appeared as a note on the facebook page of the Nature Society (Singapore)

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