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Haphazard city planning

By Philip Ang

SimCity

Mr Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee kuan Yew School of Public Policy, must be given credit for his take on our public transportation in his article for the Straits Times on 14 September.  Hopefully, the government will at least listen for once.

Our road planning, according to Mr Mahbubani, is based on the ‘make traffic flow smoothly’ KPI and “looking at each artery” instead of “looking at the system as a whole”.

By looking at each unit in isolation, we did not consider its impact on the island or the nation as a whole”, he says.

This is exactly what the People’s Action Party (PAP) government has been doing – the various ministries are being assessed according to financial yardsticks and view each objective in its isolation.  They appear not to have been informed by our population planners, resulting in heavily congested roads and insufficient housing.

The problem is not simply confined to the Land Transport Authority (LTA).  So in this instance, Mr Mahbubani appears to have missed the woods for the forest because even if the LTA had viewed the transport ecosystem as a whole but without any input from other ministries, the result would not have been much different.

The solution lies in a whole-of-government approach which has been sorely lacking.  The government also needs to acknowledge there are physical limitations. Singapore city is not SIM city where one can ‘suka-suka’ (arbitrarily) build anywhere as if real people do not exist. 

The dean admires New York City where even the rich have a choice to take public transport.  He also cited Bogota as another exemplary city. “A developed country isn't a place where the poor have cars. It's where the rich use public transportation,” the mayor of the city, Gustavo Petro, once said.

Mr Mahbubani says we can dream of having fewer cars and fewer roads. 

I am not too optimistic about this. Just look at buildings suddenly sprouting out of nowhere and the recent spate of major development projects announced by the government – while we continue to face current traffic bottlenecks. 

Can we really have fewer roads when the population keeps growing at 100,000* every year, possibly at a higher rate in future?

With this kind of nightmarish and haphazard city planning, Mr Mahbubani’s dream may be nothing more than a pipe dream.

*Based on statistics from singstat which indicate a constant increase of 100,000 a year, not just for the last 5 years but 2 decades, from 3.3 million to 5.3 million last year.