'A huge opportunity for space': What going car-lite means for Singapore’s 1.4 million parking lots

'A huge opportunity for space': What going car-lite means for Singapore’s 1.4 million parking lots

stock open air carpark
File image of vehicles parked in an open-air car park in Singapore. (Photo: Francine Lim)

SINGAPORE: With the push to go car-lite reducing demand for parking spaces in Singapore, authorities are looking to convert more lots for other uses.  

Already, the rooftops of some Housing and Development Board (HDB) car parks will be used for urban farming. And the Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced earlier this month that it would pave over some roadside parking lots along Havelock Road to widen walking paths, as part of wider efforts to make walking and cycling more convenient. 

READ: SFA launches tender for rental of 7 sites at HDB car park rooftops for urban farming

"With significant improvements made to the public transport network and first-and-last mile connectivity such as cycling paths and better walking connectivity, an increasing number of places can be conveniently accessed," said LTA, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and HDB on Wednesday (Mar 10).

"This reduces reliance on private transport and the demand for car parking spaces."

The agencies noted that parking provision standards for new private developments are regularly revised in line with Singapore's car-lite vision.  

Ten areas, including Jurong Lake District, Woodlands North and Bayshore, were in recent years gazetted as car-lite areas with cuts to parking spaces. Developments in Kampong Bugis, for instance, will adopt at least a 30 per cent reduction in car park provision.

READ: Commentary: What will it take to make Singapore truly car-lite?

LTA is also working with HDB and URA to “right-size public parking provision" through measures such as converting suitable parking spaces in existing public car parks to other uses,” the agencies told CNA. 

BENEFITS OF REMOVING CAR PARK SPACE 

These conversions represent "a huge opportunity for space" and for more efficient planning given the sheer amount of space that parking takes up, said Adjunct Associate Professor Paul Barter of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP).

According to the agencies, there are more than 12,000 car parks in Singapore, providing about 1.4 million parking lots. They are located in public housing estates, private residential areas, public car parks, major shopping malls, office buildings and other commercial buildings.

Yet, parking is “absolutely the most inefficient, space-consuming way to provide access to a place”, said Dr Barter.

For one, he estimated that in multi-storey car parks, each parking lot takes up about 30 sq m, after factoring in the land for aisles, ramps and pillars.

That’s half the size of a three-room HDB flat.

Entrance to Grange Road car park
Grange Road car park. (Photo: Rauf Khan)

There are two benefits to removing parking - creating more accessibility by freeing up space for other modes of connectivity and enhancing place-making, said Dr Barter.

“If it’s a good, attractive place, people spend more time there, are more likely to go there and there’ll be more shopping and lifestyle, and more companies are likely to locate there," he added.

"Generally, it’s good for real estate values (too)."

A reduction in the car population could also have a disproportionately larger impact on cutting space. This is because there are lots catering to where the person lives, works, shops or visits, said Mr Scott Dunn, Global Governing Trustee at the Urban Land Institute (ULI).

“That’s why if you just take one car off the road, it doesn’t equate just to one (parking space). It might actually be more than that.

“In a constrained urban fabric where there’s not a lot of space, the ability to use this space … has a lot of potential,” said Mr Dunn, who is also vice-president for Growth and Strategy, Southeast Asia at engineering firm AECOM.

WHAT COULD CAR PARKS BECOME?

There are many possibilities for space conversion, said experts, noting that it ultimately depends on the type of car park and its location.

For multi-storey car parks, apart from using rooftops for urban farming, Dr Mak Chin Long from CPG Consultants noted trends of converting them into cultural parks. This has been done in cities such as London, Miami and Copenhagen.

“(These multi-storey car parks) can be converted to a multi-sensory, multi-use destination attracting young people to collaborate, meet and innovate,” Dr Mak, executive vice president of the firm. 

converted car park in Miami
1111 Lincoln Road in Miami incorporates retail, dining and event spaces. (Photo: Hufton & Crow)

READ: All HDB car parks in at least 8 towns to have electric vehicle charging points by 2025

To complement a car-lite vision, he added that unused car parks can house shared mobility services, with parking or electrical charging spaces.

Other ideas include having under-utilised floors of multi-storey car parks converted for commercial uses such as cafes or central kitchens - a suggestion made by MP Jamus Lim (WP-Sengkang) in Parliament earlier this month.

As for roadside parking, LTA, URA and HDB said they are exploring “pedestrianising or repurposing certain stretches” to provide wider footpaths or dedicated cycling paths. This has been done in numerous other cities, such as Melbourne and Oslo.

READ: More roads to be converted for pedestrians and cyclists; 60 projects identified, including in Civic District

Another good option would be to use these spaces for urban greenery, said Associate Professor Walter Theseira from the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS).

For surface car parks, the agencies noted that land occupied by these spaces in the city centre is generally “safeguarded for other long-term uses” and are often used as interim spots before they are developed.

Artist's impression of Grange Road car park
An artist's impression of the Grange Road site. (Image: Singapore Land Authority, Singapore Tourism Board, Urban Redevelopment Authority)

“Some of these car parks also present opportunities for us to experiment and inject new and differentiated lifestyle offerings in the city,” said the agencies, pointing to trials at the former car park at Grange Road in the Orchard shopping belt.

An independent cinema and hawker stalls have now been planned for it.

WHICH CAR PARKS WOULD BE THE FIRST TO GO?

To LKYSPP’s Dr Barter, work-related parking presents “the biggest opportunity”.

“One work trip takes a whole parking space for eight, nine, 10 hours. If you can get a small percentage of people to choose a different mode of transport, you’re opening a lot of parking space,” he said.  

ULI’s Mr Dunn added that the strongest candidates for conversion would be those nearer to transit nodes, as they are already well-connected and people in those areas would have less of a need for cars.

Carpark Singapore
(Photo: Nisha Karyn)

The central business district is another prime choice, as space there is already tight and the area houses a higher proportion of expatriates who may not own cars, said Mr Dunn.

In fact, the agencies noted that owners of buildings in the city area and those close to train stations can already submit proposals to convert their extra parking spaces into other uses.

One development that has done so is Chevron House in Raffles Place, which has converted its spare parking space to a gym.

CONSTRAINTS AND CHALLENGES

A challenge in conversion is that some car parks were not designed for much else, given their low floor-to-ceiling ratios, Mr Dunn pointed out.

But the bigger problem might be pushback from stakeholders, experts said.

“What people worry about is that if this goes too far too fast, there will be frustration, people can’t find parking,” said LKYSPP’s Dr Barter.

The key is to make incremental changes in strategic locations to warm people up to the idea, he said.

These should be complemented by efforts to regulate demand and supply for remaining car parks, using levers such as pricing, he added.

Above all, observers stressed that all parking removals must be supplemented by stronger mobility networks, such as more public transport or walking options.

READ: Commentary: Hard to be a car-lite society without a reliable MRT system

“In a car-lite vision, parking is just a piece to that whole transformation. You need a lot of other support facilities to help encourage people to be able to use public transport, cycle and walk, which include end-trip facilities,” said Mr Dunn.

“For most people, if you make things easy and convenient, people opt for the easiest way."

Source: CNA/cl(gs)

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