URA chief planner cycles for work and fun

URA chief planner cycles for work and fun

The car has taken a back seat for Singapore's chief urban planner, Mr Lim Eng Hwee.

After several outings with cycling enthusiasts for two years, the 49-year-old now cycles at least twice a week to work, pedalling 15km between his home in Frankel Avenue and his office in Maxwell Road.

His decision to switch from four wheels to two is partly prompted by his work.

He is chief planner of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and its deputy chief executive officer.

The post puts him in charge of implementing Singapore's urban planning and land-use policies but it is also significant that the URA is the agency that unveiled the National Cycling Plan last year as part of the nation's land-use masterplan.

A $50 bicycle was his way of getting around Harvard University in 1997, when he was doing his Master in Public Administration course in the US.

But he stopped cycling when he returned home. "Singapore was not a place to cycle," he said, recalling a few close shaves with buses on the roads.

However, his return to biking has opened his eyes to gaps in the existing infrastructure.

"You discover how you can make things easier. Little details count. Like whether there's a small kerb and whether the drain grating lies one way or the other because if it's parallel to the rider and you're using a bicycle with slim tyres, your wheel can get trapped and you may fall," he said.

But more importantly, the commute has become a journey of joy. "I take the park connector to East Coast Park and I see groups of people jogging, doing tai chi or folk dance... You definitely start your day on a better note."

Cycling has also given him a new perspective of the development projects he oversees and whose sites he visits regularly.

He takes the MRT to these places, and it has given him ideas on ways to improve the train stations and pedestrian paths.

"If you're driving, you zoom past many places. Cycling is slower, so you see a lot more things," he said.

This fresh perspective is one reason the URA office now has folding bicycles that staff can use for such visits. They are encouraged to take them on the train or in their car to complete the "last mile" to the work site.

But Mr Lim has no plans to sell his car, which he uses on weekends for the family and trips to the market, and on days when he has to go to meetings at different places.

"Cars are useful but you need not own one... The important thing from the planning point is to make non-motorised transport options as pleasant, friendly and convenient as driving," he said.


This article was first published on Nov 1, 2014.
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