Part of Orchard Road to go car-free once a month

Kelly Ng and Elgin Chong Today Online 26 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE — After two years, plans to make a part of Orchard Road pedestrian-only are finally coming to fruition.

Starting next month, a 660m stretch of the road — running from ION Orchard to Ngee Ann City — will turn into a pedestrian-only street on the first Saturday of every month from 6pm to 11pm.

This six-month pilot of Pedestrian Night on Orchard Road, led by the Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) and supported by the Singapore Tourism Board, will create a space for community activities. Kicking off the line-up is Tennis Pops Up @ Orchard Road on Oct 4, held in conjunction with the upcoming Women’s Tennis Association Finals, where the public will get to try their hand at playing tennis on the streets and watch demonstrations by pro players.

Said ORBA chairman May Sng: “Pedestrianising Orchard Road adds another dimension to our iconic precinct. Orchard Road will no longer just be a shopping belt, but a vibrant lifestyle destination with an array of exciting activities for all to enjoy.”

In November, yoga enthusiasts can look forward to a mass yoga event with a renowned instructor, while a Christmas-themed carnival will take to the roads in December.

Orchard Road is no stranger to going car-free. Back in 1989, the thoroughfare from Paterson Road to Grange Road was closed to traffic once a month. This stopped after several months when fewer events were held and public interest subsided.

The idea was revived in 2012 as part of ORBA’s proposal to enhance public spaces on the shopping belt. Tourism and architecture experts then lauded major cities such as London, Tokyo and Beijing, where main shopping streets are permanently pedestrian-only, but also advised organisers to study road usage patterns before undertaking the project.

The ORBA said “intensive discussions” with businesses and government agencies started six months ago, and they identified the five-hour window on Saturday evenings as the least disruptive.

However, some retailers were concerned that diverting traffic would cause business to suffer. “(They) are concerned that visitors (who drive) might be put off visiting Orchard Road because they think the precinct is inaccessible,” said ORBA executive director Steven Goh.

Mr Allan Chia, head of the Marketing Programme at SIM University’s School of Business, said the initiative would be a draw for shoppers and tourists, but managing the fallout from the event would be critical.

“For example, how will the congestion be dealt with in terms of pedestrian and vehicular traffic and also car parking? Other issues include security and safety, and maintaining cleanliness of the area,” he said.

Mr Goh said they have communicated to retailers that car parks of the malls along this stretch will remain fully accessible despite making it pedestrian-only, while those taking the buses can alight before or after the pedestrian-only zone.

Based on the Land Transport Authority’s traffic monitoring data, the stretch sees about 2,000 vehicles hourly during this time period. Signage has been put up around the precinct to advise motorists of road closures and route diversions. Announcements will also be made through social media before each Pedestrian Night.

Retailers TODAY spoke to were not confident that the initiative will boost business. Mr Jimmy Tan, who owns a souvenir shop at Lucky Plaza, said visitors to the street events are unlikely to come by his shop. “No one comes to Lucky Plaza these days. And if the road is blocked, drivers will have to drive one round to the car park at the back. Who will do that?” said Mr Tan, whose shop has been around for 18 years.

Mr Raj, who helps out at Dollars & Scent Duty Free Perfume store at Lucky Plaza said: “There’s both good and bad. Good because it might bring more people to our shop. Bad because if they cannot drive here, people say ‘I might go other places, why come here?’.”

Others like Ms Carol Liu, store supervisor of The Wright Gift at ION Orchard, felt it was too early to tell if business would be affected. “It depends on the type of activities (Pedestrian Night) offers. If they can draw a crowd to Orchard Road, it might bring more people to our shop,” she said.

Mr Goh agreed that “creative programming” is key to making the pilot successful. “We are, therefore, very excited to see the different suggestions or proposals from the community,” he said.

Individuals and community groups can email with their ideas and feedback.

Stretch of Orchard Rd to be closed on 'pedestrian nights'
Jermyn Chow The Straits Times AsiaOne 26 Sep 14;

A SECTION of Orchard Road will go car-free and become a walker's paradise once a month, as part of efforts to breathe new life into the iconic shopping belt.

The 660m stretch from shopping centres Ion Orchard to Ngee Ann City, or between the Scotts Road/Paterson Road junction and Bideford Road, will be closed to all vehicles on the first Saturday of every month from next month, billed as Pedestrian Night.

Shoppers can then roam the street without worrying about honking drivers, who will be shut off from the stretch between 6pm and 11pm.

The Orchard Road Business Association (Orba), which is behind the six-month trial, hopes the move will revitalise Singapore's premier shopping street, which is facing stiff competition from new shopping haunts in Marina Bay as well as suburban malls.

With vehicles out of the way, Orba chairman May Sng said more people can spill onto the road and experience a different side of Orchard Road.

"(They can) enjoy other activities in this vibrant lifestyle destination and have fun," she said.

The street will also be turned into a hive of activity.

For the inaugural Pedestrian Night on Oct 4, for instance, revellers can play street tennis and watch music performances. Other events such as a mass yoga session and a Christmas carnival have also been planned till the end of the year.

On Pedestrian Nights, buses that ply the affected thoroughfare will skip two stops and be diverted to Grange Road and Orchard Link instead.

Sections of Orchard Road have been closed annually for big events like the Christmas celebrations on Dec 25 and the Fashion Steps Out fashion show in April.

In other major shopping cities, including London and Tokyo, the shutting of sections of road happens routinely on certain weekends.

In Beijing, the Wangfujing shopping street is permanently closed to traffic.

Orba, which represents more than 70 members including multi- label retailer Club 21 and mall operator CapitaMalls Asia, has previously mooted the idea of making Orchard Road a no-car zone, as recently as 2012.

Mrs Sng said stakeholders have been worried that shoppers who drive to town will be put off by traffic disruptions.

"But (now) we want to test this regular slot and communicate to drivers... that they should not avoid Orchard Road," she said.

Even though a previous attempt to close Orchard Road once a month in 1989 lasted only a few years, organisers are more optimistic that it may work this time round. After all, road closures at Haji Lane, Club Street and Circular Road on weekends have been a hit with regulars there.

Ms Melissa Ow, assistant chief executive of the Singapore Tourism Board's Experience Development Group, said: "It's about creating new social spaces for people.

Pedestrianisation has become something commonplace... There is greater familiarity and confidence that this is something which will take off."

The new Pedestrian Night might prove to be a draw for shoppers such as Mr Lawrence Lim, 38. The business development manager, who lives in Serangoon North, said: "I can usually get most of my shopping done in the neighbourhood malls, but if there are fun events in town, I wouldn't mind making a trip down to check them out."

Shoppers, retailers look forward to street events
Lester Hio The Straits Times AsiaOne 28 Sep 14;

Shoppers and retailers are looking forward to the upcoming Pedestrian Night at Orchard Road, which they say will make the area more vibrant.

Many are excited by the range of street events that will be organised for the designated night, which will happen on the first Saturday of every month, from 6pm to 11pm, starting next month.

Said Mr Tan Lubin, 27, a church worker: "If the event is something I'm interested in, like basketball or football, then I'll definitely head down."

A range of activities have been planned for the monthly event, including street tennis, music performances, a mass yoga session and Christmas carnival, which will take place on the stretch of Orchard Road from Ion Orchard to Ngee Ann City that will be closed to vehicular traffic.

Other shoppers such as Ms Maria Tan like the idea for a different reason.

"It'll be fun to be able to walk along a road that's normally full of cars," said the 47-year-old housewife.

Retailers, in particular those operating food and beverage outlets, are expecting more business on Pedestrian Night.

Miss Monica Morales, 30, manager of Calamansi, a fruit juice store at Paragon shopping centre, said she expects customers to drop by the shop after trying out the physical activities such as tennis and yoga.

Mr Chieng Puay Chui, 66, who sells ice-cream from his cart outside Ngee Ann City, said that the Saturday crowd is already quite big.

"I will see how big the crowd is on the first month. Hopefully, I will have to bring more ice-cream to sell next month," he said in Mandarin.

Others, however, are adopting a wait-and-see approach. Said Mr Steven Teng, 61, owner of Allkind Cameras Electronics at Lucky Plaza: "It's hard to say if it will bring people back, since they will go to the bigger, more popular shopping centres anyway."

The road closure could mean inconvenience for some residents in the area, especially those who live in Nutmeg Road behind Lucky Plaza.

Housewife Helen Gwee, 62, who lives in Jalan Jintan off Nutmeg Road, said the monthly event may pose a "slight inconvenience" as she will have to drive along a longer route via Mount Elizabeth road.

Still, a Pedestrian Night can only be good for Singapore as a tourist destination, said Mr Jeremiah Wong, marketing communications manager for Chan Brothers Travel.

"Street parties in other countries are prevalent, and there are always fun things to do. Opening Orchard Road up like this will help promote Singapore as a more dynamic and fun destination," he said.