No walk in the park for seniors to get to one

SINGAPORE - Marine Parade resident Santhi Kandasamy, 73, lives about 1km from East Coast Park as the crow flies - but seldom goes there.

"It's difficult to get there - you need to take the underpass," said the retiree, who finds it hard climbing the stairs to cross overhead bridges.

Older Marine Parade residents like Ms Kandasamy have told researchers from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (Smart) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that getting around the estate is no walk in the park.

The study found that the over-60s risk being cut off from social and physical activities by hard-to-cross roads like the East Coast Parkway (ECP), which cuts off the beach from the neighbouring HDB estate.

But many older adults also lead active lifestyles, and would rather take the bus than the MRT.

The study, which surveyed 50 seniors in a Marine Parade case study and 30 others in focus groups around the island, was part of Smart's Future Urban Mobility research programme to develop more efficient and sustainable mobility solutions.

"Ageing is the demographic reality that we're all facing, and in Singapore particularly," said MIT urban planner Chris Zegras, who led the study and presented it at a Future Mobility symposium held here earlier this week. "Mobility reduces personal isolation, and is a means of getting us to the things we need to age healthily."

But those surveyed said car ownership is too expensive for the retired. And as taking the MRT involves too much walking, taking of stairs and escalators, and scarce seats, they prefer buses.

Older adults walk to their activities and nearby amenities, but must cut through crowds and face unyielding motorists.

In Marine Parade, where one in four residents is over 65, those living in Marine Drive said Still Road South and the ECP on-ramp are hard to cross on foot, while underpasses are difficult to use.

Associate Professor Paulin Straughan, a sociologist at the National University of Singapore, said: "One of the things that we really need to do a lot more of, and urgently, is to prepare infrastructure for a greying population."

For instance, minivan services could run local feeder loops that take seniors around their estates to markets, polyclinics and social-gathering spaces like parks.

Ms Kandasamy suggested that escalators be installed on both sides of the bridge to Parkway Parade, which she frequents.

Next, the team would like to do a larger study of older adults here and compare it with studies in other cities like Boston.

So, will future generations of seniors have different transport preferences and patterns?

When today's seniors formed their transit habits, the MRT was not around yet, Dr Zegras said.

"Maybe the next generation will be more MRT-inclined."

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