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Clearer skies, roads for temple's neighbours

Bright Hill temple hires contractors to direct traffic, reduce ash at Qing Ming. -ST
Melody Zaccheus

Mon, Apr 01, 2013
The Straits Times

Temple-goers staying within pedestrian areas marked out by barricade tape. For years, residents in the neighbourhood have had to put up with illegal parking, traffic snarls and ash during the Qing Ming season.

SINGAPORE - This Qing Ming, the roads and skies are clearer for Fulton estate residents living next to Singapore's biggest Mahayana Buddhist temple than all the years before.

Traffic wardens stand guard at both ends of Fulton Road, which is less than 700m from Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery at Bright Hill Road.

Only cars bearing a decal of the estate - consisting of 138 terrace and semi-detached houses along two streets - are allowed to proceed.

"We've waited for smooth traffic and clear skies for a long time," said Mr Govindaraju Ramiah, 65, who has been living there for more than two decades. "This is one of the better-managed Qing Mings," added the retiree.

For years, residents there had to put up with illegal parking, traffic snarls and ash when Qing Ming came around.

Thousands of devotees visit the temple and burn joss papers in the open as a display of filial piety to their dead relatives. In Singapore, devotees usually do this on April 4 and over a period of 20 days before and after the date.

Resident Pandi Karuppiah, 63, a retiree, used to be stuck in a jam even before he drove out of his gate. "The congestion used to be very severe as temple-goers used the estate's roads as a carpark. We've made tons of complaints to the temple over the years, begging for a permanent solution."

Last year, residents formed a neighbourhood committee representing the interests of more than 130 households from the estate and those living in Bishan Point condominium to consolidate feedback, complaints and suggestions.

They then met temple representatives, facilitated by Bishan- Toa Payoh MP Josephine Teo, after residents took up their concerns with her.

Since then, the temple has hired a new security firm and cleaning company to beef up security for the residents, and reduce the amount of ash that wafts into their homes.

The traffic wardens from ASEC Security Events Command have, for instance, introduced barricades to cordon off access to the private estate.

They have also set up two Variable Message Signs systems at Bright Hill Road and Sin Ming Avenue to inform drivers that they are not allowed to park in the area.

The temple has redoubled cleaning efforts as well, assigning some 70 cleaners from Eng Leng Contractors to clean up ash and residue daily.

By Qing Ming next year, devotees and residents can expect even more improvements.

The temple is paying for a $12 million four-storey carpark with about 200 parking spaces.

A four-storey million-dollar burner from Taiwan is also in the works. The hexagonal burner, which can burn at least 10 tonnes of paper a day, will replace its existing one.

Temple representatives said the new burner is more environmentally friendly and burns more efficiently.

The temple's public affairs manager, Ms Nancy Tan, said the monastery believes it is important to consider the needs of both residents and devotees.

"While we can't please everyone, we need to try to strike a balance. We believe things can only get better from here," she said.

Temple devotee Edmund Tee, 28, a sales assistant, agreed. He said he "understands the need for such stringent traffic control measures" for the benefit of residents.

Mr Low Kim Seng, 58, who chairs the neighbourhood committee, said he is pleased with the temple's consultative approach. "We've thrashed things out and have successfully engaged them over the past year."

The temple has also hired an internal security firm and Certis Cisco security guards to patrol the perimeter of the 92-year-old monastery to manage the crowd, which can hit 20,000 on special occasions such as Vesak Day.

The Land Transport Authority said it is not uncommon for organisers to employ private security firms to manage traffic, but noted that Kong Meng San has taken the initiative to help minimise the inconvenience arising from large crowds during Qing Ming.

MP Josephine Teo said mutual understanding and support are key to addressing community issues.

"Both sides listened to each other and took concrete steps to address the concerns. They exercised good judgment and did not place unreasonable demands on the other," said Mrs Teo.

Mr Karuppiah said: "Now everything is very peaceful, the crowds and noise don't reach us."

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