Make Waterloo vehicle-free? Some say no

SINGAPORE - Pedestrian-only streets have been a hit for revellers and businesses in areas such as Club Street and Ann Siang Road.

But a plan raised in Parliament last month to extend this to Waterloo Street, where religion and the arts create an eclectic mix, has met some opposition.

Residents and several religious groups told The Sunday Times that they are not looking forward to a further onslaught of crowds, congestion and noise.

"Sound really travels here so organisers need to take into consideration the possible noise pollution it may cause for elderly folk living in the flats nearby," said Mr Ang Kwan San, 50, a factory worker who lives in Block 264.

The area is home to a host of religious landmarks, including the Church of Saints Peter and Paul and Sri Krishnan Temple - both of which were founded in 1870 - and the 135-year-old Maghain Aboth Synagogue.

A portion of the street - near the popular Sri Krishnan and Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho temples - is already a no-car zone.

Several of these organisations, which are busiest on weekends, believe opening up more of the street to throngs of pedestrians could make the situation more hectic.

"I think the worshippers expect peace and serenity where possible," said Kum Yan Methodist Church pastor Law Poh Ing.

But the street is also flanked by museums and arts facilities such as Dance Ensemble Singapore and Sculpture Square, which are managed by the National Arts Council.

And these arts groups, along with food outlets there, believe the plan will revitalise the two-way street which stretches from Rochor Road to Bras Basah Road.

"It's somewhat like a ghost town at night so this can really help to draw regular crowds and generate awareness about the arts groups here," said Mr Tan Tiow Siong, the secretary-general of the Singapore Calligraphy Centre located there.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has been meeting operators of art establishments at Waterloo Street for feedback. A URA spokesman said it would engage other stakeholders before firming plans to "enhance the public realm on Waterloo Street".

The tenants whom The Sunday Times spoke to said they were told that widened pathways for pedestrians will be ready by 2015. Queen Street, where road enhancement works started earlier this year, could also be part of the plan to partially close Waterloo Street.

Last month, Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Ang Hin Kee asked Mr Lawrence Wong, Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, whether the ministry would consider closing Short Street in Rochor or Waterloo Street to vehicles once a month for arts and cultural initiatives.

Mr Wong said the suggestion would be studied, with the Government already looking to provide more space for arts and cultural initiatives around Waterloo Street, formerly known as Church Street.

It was renamed by the British to commemorate their victory over the French at the Battle of Waterloo.

Ms Adine Halim, 20, a student who lives at Min Yuan condominium there, said she already cannot sleep when the crowds throng the street during events such as the Singapore Night Festival, held every August. "If it's a monthly affair, it would really be disruptive."

Residents from a handful of nearby Housing Board flats and condominiums already complain about noise at night when performing arts groups like the Dance Ensemble practise routines for events, such as Chingay and National Day, on the street.

Dance Ensemble instructor Sharon Low suggested that any road closure should take place in the afternoon on weekends instead of at night.

Ms Selina Gan, the general manager of the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations which is located at Waterloo Street, is all for the idea.

"It's a lovely street and more should be done to highlight the beautiful architecture of the buildings here."

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