Coming soon: 100,000 more people and transport madness in Jurong Lake District

“Any feedback, sir?” asked an eager young man as I was leaving the exhibition.

“Too many questions, too little time,” I said. I would be late if I didn’t hurry up the escalator to the platforms of Jurong East Station, where goodness knows what crush of humanity awaited me. It was too risky to dwell and engage with him.

The exhibition was titled “Jurong Lake District” or something like that. It had a scale carpentry model of the area, and a series of posters mounted on wallboards. Many of the posters (and glib captions) can be viewed at this website: www.jld.sg. Basically, it’s about a massive development of the area into a “second CBD” (central business district). The problem with the exhibition and website was that everything was made to look like a glossy sales brochure — you know, the kind you get when an eager young man tries to sell you a condo apartment — rather than anything detailed and informative enough for citizens to give feedback on.

There are artistic renderings of sunlit promenades, wide open spaces, and lasers shooting into the night sky. The text contains phrases such as “two world-class research universities”, “convenient connections to the city”, “seamless travel by public transport and active mobility.” And “naturalised drains”… what on earth are those?

Transport connectivity

As you can see from the website, it boasts that the district will have 20,000 new homes and 100,000 new jobs. Those numbers jumped at me at the exhibition. How are all these people supposed to get around?

Apparently, two new MRT stations are on the drawing board. They are marked on this map which can be found at the http://www.jld.sg website. I have added a few street names so that you can orientate yourself better.  (But why didn’t the original jld map have road names? *scratch head*)

Currently, the only metro station within the boundaries of the map is Jurong East Station, which is an interchange between the East-West and North-South lines. But what lines are going to the two new stations? No mention on the map at all. See what I mean by insufficient detail?

I have to go to the Land Transport Authority’s website (www.lta.gov.sg)  and these two pages (see here and here) to discover that the new stations will (probably) be on the proposed Jurong Region Line and Cross Island Line. The former is scheduled for completion 2025 and the latter, 2030.

They will do much to improve connectivity into the area, which is currently poor, but both new lines will have considerable limitations.

Back of EnvelopeWhat does 100,000 workers mean in terms of transport load?

A 6-car train carries about 1,200 passengers if packed in. If we assume that a quarter of passengers alight at the Jurong Lake District, then each train disgorges about 300 people into the area. Furthermore, we assume,

  • A train every two minutes each direction;
  • 6-car trains for the Cross Island and East-West Lines;
  • 3-car trains for the Jurong Region Line;

an estimated 45,000 workers will be brought into the district per hour.

But if 90% of the workers live outside the district, we need to bring in 90,000 workers. It’s going to take two hours of jam-packed trains to do so each morning, and two hours to take them home each evening.

The Jurong Region Line, as its name implies, is a regional system. It will do little more than feed in from Choa Chu Kang, Jurong West and the proposed Tengah new town. For any of these passengers to go downtown, they will have to change at Jurong East station to the green East-West Line, surely adding to the crush of people already using that interchange.

The Cross-Island Line will feed in from major suburbs such as Hougang, Ang Mo Kio and Clementi.

However, a “second CBD” will need easy connection with the first CBD — it’s the nature of business networking. Right now, there is nothing planned except the already overloaded East-West Line. I think this is an oversight the planners will come to rue.

Lessons not learnt?

Also problematic is the question of short-distance connectivity within the Lake District. The three MRT stations are likely to be 600 – 700 metres from each other. In our hot, humid climate, this is too far to walk.  On the jld website there is a lot of airy and faddish talk about “bus-only corridors” and provision for “personal mobility devices” but it is doubtful that such means can adequately move the mass numbers that should be expected. Completely missing is any provision for a light rail loop within Jurong East itself.

One hopes that it will not be an “afterthought”, to use a description recently pinned on the Bukit Panjang light rail system by Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan. Rail systems need to be planned far in advance. This is not only because of the long construction times needed, but also because turning angles for trains are very large. To retroactively construct a rail network in an already-built-up area is costly and leads to less than optimum design.

In short, what the exhibition showed (and jld website still shows) is that we still haven’t learnt the lessons of the past, where one agency fails to co-ordinate with another. The Urban Redevelopment Authority, in charge of the master plan and building works, is putting together these wedding-cake plans for an entire district, populating it with 100,000 new workers. Yet, there is little discernable participation by the Land Transport Authority which is in charge of transport systems. The least they could do was to put up a joint exhibition, and convince people — with transparency in numbers — how capacity provision has been thought through. Is that too much to ask?

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