Car-Free But Not Cost Free

Cars and pedestrians do not mix. As long as each sticks to their part of the street, some form of coexistence is possible. Here’s the kicker though. When streets are filled with popular food and beverage (F&B) outlets, when late night dining and drinking can cause problems for both motorists and consumers alike, that’s when car-free zones could just be the right prescription for some areas. Or is it?

This is where car-free weekends help. With a ban on through traffic during peak hours, restaurants, bars and cafés can spill into the street with nary a worry of angry drivers honking their horns. On 30 January Minister of National Development Lawrence Wong suggested the possibility of adding two more streets to the existing 11, reported Channel NewsAsia.  The two candidates are Armenian Street and Keong Siak Road.

This is part of the wider movement by MND to make Singapore a ‘car-lite’ city. So what does that actually mean — becoming car-lite? Wong says in the report by Channel NewsAsia, “We do have to make a national shift, a cultural shift – and it’s not just about becoming a more environmentally-friendly environment, but it’s fundamentally about becoming a more attractive, more liveable, and more people-friendly city.”

The environmental benefits notwithstanding, is this move going to help or harm businesses along these streets? SIX-SIX.COM speaks with businesses on both streets to find out more.

The trendy location

Of the two, Keong Siak Road is the more likely candidate for a car-free zone during weekends. The street, formerly synonymous with sleaze and prostitution in the 60s, has become quite the destination for both Singaporeans and Tourists alike.

Molly Wong, CEO and founder of café Banana Tree SG says that it was the atmosphere of the street that made her want to open up her business here. “We opened here about a year ago,” she says, “I have a lot of friends who said that the street was becoming trendier and trendier.”

Wong believes that the introduction of the car-free zone was a definite positive, because it will “bring in more customers” for all businesses. She did admit however that she isn’t sure if it would have a direct affect on how she would run her shop.

Danial Syed, a Malay-British chef at fusion bistro The Study feels the same way. “I think it’s a great idea,” he says of Keong Siak Road potentially having car-free weekends, “there are a lot of pedestrians, and it would make it safer.”

Syed, like Wong, is unsure of how the business is going to capitalise on the free streets. “Someone said something about having tables outside on the street, so that might boost business in that sense.”

Not all positives

Syed did however see a potential cause for concern with having car-free weekends. “A lot of our customers don’t drive I think,” he says, “and they take cabs in, so it might be harder to flag them down.” Syed feels that this is only a minor concern however.

Irene Ong, co-owner of True Blue Cuisine on Armenian Street is very adamant that the car-free zone is not a good idea for her business. For her, making Armenian Street a pedestrian only zone at weekends does not benefit her restaurant at all.

“There are very few restaurants here, its mainly offices,” she says, passionately explaining that from a business perspective making the street car-free will only hurt her. She argues that she might even have to resort to closing the restaurant on Sundays.

“Most of my customers drive here,” she says, “and especially those who are disabled can be dropped off and come in easily. If it becomes car-free how are they going to come here?”

Ong believes that the main reasoning behind this suggestion is for the benefit of the Peranakan Museum. Even then however, she feels that it is unnecessary. “Most visitors come by bus,” she says, “so how are they going to come?”

Lack of Discussion

For Ong, the most troubling aspect of this suggestion is that there was no discussion. “There are very few tenants on this road,” she argues, “it would be easy to discuss it. We only found out about the suggestion for the car-free zone when reading about it in the Newspaper!”

As of now, these suggestions are not final. If however the decision is made to make these two streets car-free during weekends, not all businesses will see the benefits.

Categories: Journalism, SIX-SIX.COM saved articles

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