Covered linkways is money well spent

From ‘Covered linkways a much-needed facility’, 25 March 17, ST Forum

(Priscilla Poh Beng Hoon):  Providing covered linkways for people to transport nodes is definitely not spoiling the population (Use umbrellas at unsheltered areas by Mr Alex Yeo Eng Buan; March 16).

Covered linkways are a much-needed facility, especially for the wheelchair-bound, the elderly and those who use prams and trolleys. It is money well spent, considering the long-term and wider benefits to the community as a whole.

Using umbrellas, particularly on busy walkways linking up to transportation nodes, can inadvertently impede people’s movements because the objects take up more space. Wet umbrellas will also create puddles on MRT platforms and in buses, which may be slippery.

Certainly, money assigned to building communal amenities could be used for other purposes, like helping the poor.

But there are already many social outreach organisations across the spectrum, such as voluntary welfare organisations, community stakeholders and religious bodies, which ensure affected individuals and households receive help promptly.

The Government also provides support in the form of the ComCare scheme for the low-income. So, let’s not suggest that money for covered walkways be used to help the poor.

According to the LTA and HDB, covered walkways cost $200,000 to $600,000 per 100m to construct, excluding maintenance (Running short of shelter, 12 March 17, ST). When the walkway project was initiated in 1976 in a bid to make Singapore a pedestrian-friendly city, it cost $10 million.  A mild inconvenience of putting your handbag over your head, or running in the rain, costs nothing. For those who need a little help, like mothers with babies or old folks, you could offset the need to pamper our people with shelter wherever they go with a little kindness by sharing an umbrella, or stripping to overlay your shirt on puddles like a true gentleman. Though folks these days would rather forego the umbrella in place of a bulky portable phone charger.

We tend to take our public amenities for granted and this grousing about the lack of covered linkways is a sign that we’re a victim of our own success. We complain about the break in the linkway en route to the train station but forget that we practically have a train station at our doorstep. Would you rather walk without getting wet or scorched for 2km before even getting a glimpse of an MRT track? It’s the same thing with trees. We complain about not having enough trees for shade, but bash the authorities when one collapses on a car or kills someone at the Botanic Gardens.

What next? Charging stations along walkways? Or designated paths for personal mobility devices? How about we make our walkways air-conditioned? In the grand scheme of things we need to question our priorities when it comes to building ‘nice to have’ structures vs what is really essential. The money could be better spent on more disabled-friendly facilities like ramps for example, or upgrading our lifts so they don’t kill people.

 

Golden staircase in HDB an act of vandalism

From ‘Town council says student’s effort to cover HDB staircase in gold foil ‘not permissible’, 7 March 2017, article by Wong Pei Ting, Today

The Jalan Besar Town Council is reaching out to an arts student who covered the 20th floor staircase of a Jalan Rajah flat with gold foil to explore future collaboration, although it made clear what she did was “unauthorised” and “not permissible”.

 …Ms Priyageetha Dia, who is studying fine arts at Lasalle College of the Arts, had earlier identified herself on Facebook as the person behind the “golden staircase” at Block 103 Jalan Rajah. “We appreciate Ms Priyageetha Dia’s desire to enhance her surrounding space,” said the spokesman. “Under the Town Council’s (Common Property and Open Spaces) By-laws, however, this constitutes an unauthorised act and is thus not permissible.”

Set in the public area near her unit, Ms Dia said the artwork exists to question “what constitutes public and private spaces” and if it is “possible to draw a line between art and vandalism”. …Aware that she was treading a thin line between art and vandalism, Ms Dia asserted that she “did not deface anything”.

“What I did was to enhance the space and my surroundings,” said Ms Dia, who lives on the 20th floor. “This work provokes. Provokes in all sense (as) we are used to living the standard way of life, and all of a sudden something as glaring as gold negotiates the space. My work does not seek to obliterate a public space; vandalism in all sense has no respect for another individual.”

…Members of the Jalan Besar Town Council were also present on Tuesday to ascertain if the gold foil made the stairs slippery.

…Ms Akiko Ler, 43, felt that such an act, if done on the artist’s own accord without seeking counsel from the town council, is considered vandalism. “Residents here pay fees to keep the public space clean, so it’s only fair that it’s kept like how it was meant to be,” said the housewife from Japan.

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‘Enhancement’ is subjective. When ‘Sticker Girl‘ spray-painted My Grandfather Road, she was promptly arrested for public defacement. Pave a road with gold like it were the Yellow Brick Road of Oz and you’re likely to suffer the same fate. If an allocated section of HDB void deck is splashed with colour, it’s called a ‘mural’, but when it’s ‘unauthorised’ and presented on some random wall or tunnel outside, it’s called ‘street art’. On an MRT train, or on a HDB rooftop that says ‘Fuck the PAP’, it becomes ‘vandalism’.

Covering a staircase with gold foil to add an illusory aura of royalty to HDB peasantry is not the only decorative activity going on in HDB flats. Potted plants, for example, are breeding grounds for dengue and if lined up on parapets becomes potential killer litter, yet you hardly hear of town council officials going around cracking down on fauna enthusiasts trying to ‘enhance’ living space with their own little Edens.

The artist should count herself fortunate that the authorities are waving an olive branch of ‘future collaboration’ instead of taking her to court. Others with the same intent outside of HDB blocks were not so lucky. What I’m curious about, though, is how much money the artist spent and if it were actual gold, why hasn’t anyone tried scrapping it off for keeps already?

Decorative ledges to blame for teen death in Orchard Central

From ‘Rethink use of decorative ledges in high-rise buildings’ and ‘Safety measures needed to prevent falls’, 28 Feb 17, ST Forum

(M Lukshumayeh): It was sad to read about how 17-year-old Jonathan Chow Hua Guang fell from a link bridge at Orchard Central and died (Teen fell after ledge gave way under his weight; Feb 25).

It was reported that the seemingly solid-looking ledge that the teen set foot on was nothing more than a decorative plaster board casing.

The obvious question that surfaces is: Should such ledges be allowed in high-rise buildings?

What if officers from the Singapore Civil Defence Force unwittingly use such a ledge in their rescue work?

I hope the authorities will look into ensuring that the use of these decorative ledges is discontinued immediately, to avoid any further incidents.

(Loong Chik Tong): …This unfortunate incident could have been avoided if there were prominent warning signs on the glass balustrade, or if the height of the glass panel was higher, so it cannot be climbed over with such ease.

Shopping malls should also have high safety glass panels along the escalators, like Jem mall in Jurong East has. This is an effective measure to prevent falls.

Carparks in public buildings should also have clearly-marked pedestrian routes to the exits. Can building owners go beyond statutory requirements, and be more proactive in anticipating risks to public safety?

According to reports, the deceased Jonathan Chow was attempting to Snapchat a stunt video before falling 4 storeys to the ground, apparently deceived by the ‘concrete-like’ appearance of the ledge. The CEO of Far East Organisation called the plasterboard box-up an ‘interior architecture treatment‘. Chow’s dad understandably started pointing fingers at inadequate safety measures in shopping malls, just like the writers above, while the media remained silent on the teen’s fatal recklessness, or the danger of showing off on social media. Someone described Chow as one who ‘lived life with no regrets’, which doesn’t console anyone nor make doing death-defying shit because YOLO justifiable.

It’s interesting that one writer mentioned Jem as an example, considering its cursed history of fires, collapsing ceilings and shattering glass doors. And these are structures WITHOUT any warning signs that shoppers take for granted. Chow’s death was an unfortunate accident, but there’s little that beefing up barriers can do if people insist on engaging in aerial acrobats for thrills, whether or not the ledge was made of plaster, concrete or surrounded with barbed wire and flashing red lights. Despite installing safety barriers in MRT stations to stop people from jumping in front of trains, we still hear of people straying onto tracks.

And if, as one writer says, the SCDF wouldn’t be able to tell if a ledge is safe enough to step on, that speaks poorly of our civil defence capabilities, that they may not even be trusted to rescue a cat in a tree because they keep falling off broken branches.

It’s also absurd to put a warning sticker not to climb over a glass balustrade when the object exists for no other purpose than to stop you from falling over. It’s like separating a crocodile and you with an enclosure bearing the sign ‘Do not try to pet the croc’.  If anything, forbidding the action may even encourage Snapchatters to do it with more vigour. Like kids smoking below a No Smoking sign, or breaking into a ‘No Trespassing’ Zone.

Let’s say for argument’s sake that you effectively seal off all high-rise shenanigans, that you activate security staff round the clock to ensure there’s no monkey business. If someone slips and cracks his skull while walking on level ground, do we blame the building managers for having floors that are too smooth? If a teen decides to use a railing for wheelchair users as a balancing beam or a skateboard trick, crashes and dies, do we put signs that say ‘Do not jump around on railings’?  How about putting a sign upfront at the mall’s entrance saying ‘Do not do stupid things or play Pokemon Go’?

I wonder how different public reaction might have been if Chow took the leap of his own accord. We may start blaming the education system, the parents, cyberbullying. Anything else except the lack of signs on glass barriers telling you to call SOS for help. 

Cyclists paying road tax

From ‘Cyclists should pay road tax like other road users’, 23 Jan 2017, ST Forum

(Felix Heng Teck Seng): Currently, cyclists have special treatment on the road (“Pay to gain respect on the road? I’m in“; Jan 15).

They do not need to wear helmets, pass the Highway Code, or pay registration and road tax.

Yet, they want the same respect as other road users.

Not only is there a need to get cyclists to register and pay to use the road, but also, more importantly, they should be made to learn the Highway Code and pass tests before they are allowed on the road.

It is time to deal with this hot potato issue before more cyclists get killed.

In 1892, a certain Old Izaac shared the same concern about errant bicycles which cause ‘no small amount of nuisance’ and proposed that a tax be imposed on riders, just like how folk then paid to ride on horse carts. 125 years later, bicycles remain as fashionable as ever and people still call for these to be registered and cyclists to be taxed.

Problem is, we impose all kinds of regulations and levies on motorists and drivers still fuck shit up. Unless the revenue from bicycle taxes goes into building decent bicycle lanes, taxation will only serve as an empty, tedious bureaucratic exercise, but do this and you’ll have motorists howling louder than filthy rich golfers losing their turf to railway stations. Pedestrians will also complain because sharing bike lanes at traffic junctions means they can’t cut across to the other side of the road like a boss without suffering an altercation with a cyclist with a sense of entitlement because they pay goddamn road tax.

Errant cyclists will still remain as errant cyclists, Highway Code or not. But charge them tax and the worst of the lot will behave even more like their grandfather owns the road And let’s face it, Singapore is too hot and crowded to be a ‘walking city’. Everywhere you turn you’re bound to cross paths with joggers, cyclists, babies in strollers, hoverboarders, and people still playing Pokemon Go like it’s still 2016. Regulation is just an excuse of doing one’s job while avoiding the harder task of coming up with an actual solution. If you’re going to penalise everyone for any form of public locomotion for everyone’s safety, people are just going to stay at home, do their online shopping, get fat and die.

Walking on escalators should not be allowed

From ‘Don’t overburden escalators by walking on them’, 21 Dec 16, ST Forum

(Gan Kok Tiong): Escalators in MRT stations should not be functioning like staircases.

The main issue is that those doing so are overburdening the escalators.

Also, commuters who are right-handed will then be able to hold on to the railings on the right without having to move to the left to make way for those wishing to “walk” on the escalators.

Disallowing people from walking on the escalators will lead to normal usage of the machines, which would help in reducing the frequency of breakdowns.

Perhaps a professor of physics could answer the age-old question of what’s the best way to move people along an escalator. But in the absence of actual escalator studies, we’ll just have to settle for the wisdom of SMRT spokespeople. In 2001, SMRT in fact DISCOURAGED people from keeping to the left, as this would leave the right side underutilised and reducing rider capacity. Walking up an escalator was also deemed a safety hazard, especially when you’re on fast moving rides, though the worst thing anyone could do while on an escalator, whether they’re on the left, right, standing or walking, is to wear goddamn CROCS.

SMRT has changed their tune since. Today MRT signs remind you to keep to the left and allow others to pass. Keeping to one side of an escalator, analogous to responsible driving, remains a hallmark of a civilised society. We unwittingly teach our kids to do it and we growl at aunties for hogging the right lane when we’re in a rush. Unless there’s a drastic shift in commuter behaviour no one would want to stick out on the right side and face the wrath of a marauding escalator-walker. What SMRT needs is a lab, model escalators, and willing subjects to test the hypothesis that walking up and down an escalator on one side will eventually destroy it. But I guess they have other things to worry about, like managing mysterious signal faults for example.

Or, if you want to avoid having to deal with the ethics of escalator riding, have time and energy to spare, and not doing anything for the rest of the day beyond sitting on your arse in front of the office computer – take the stairs.

Library fine creating phobia of borrowing books

From ‘Library fines cost more than book’, 23 July 2016, ST Forum

(Sheeba John):My daughter borrowed two books from Toa Payoh Public Library in December last year. She forgot to return the books and we received a reminder from the library this month.

I immediately returned the books and wrote to the library requesting that the penalty of $31.42 be waived, as the late return was not intentional and this was the first time it had happened.

But a library officer called and said I am still required to pay $25. The cost price of the books are around $16. Now, my children and I have a phobia of borrowing books from public libraries.

I hope the authorities will look into this matter and develop a proper system for helping library users.

The complainant should count herself lucky. In 2005, a man in the US had to pay a $3571 fine for hogging a book for more than 20 years. If anything that needs to be improved about the system, it’s that the NLB needs to throw the book even harder at people who complain despite having their fine reduced out of goodwill. Mrs Sheeba John, the library doesn’t need members like you. If I were NLB not only would I raise the $25 back to $31.42, but I would suspend you from all library services indefinitely.

As a book borrower myself, I see nothing wrong with NLB’s email reminder service, which serves solely to irritate you into returning your books on time. Instead of reflecting on one’s own actions and learning from the mistake, the writer resorts to fingerpointing without specifying exactly how NLB should help forgetful morons. It’s like me exceeding the speed limit and then saying LTA should look into roads which are too smooth.

Maybe all books should be tagged with a buzzer like those they give out at food courts. Not only does this help you remember you need to return the book, but forces you to actually look for it too. Maybe she’s looking at some form of premium concierge service, where someone can come right to her doorstep to pick up forgotten books, and at the same time give a head massage to relieve her book-borrowing phobia.

The NLB has done a pretty fine job with its online platform and we’ve come so far from the days of queueing at the counter to get your book chopped. Still all the convenience in the world would not stop the penny-pinchers and blame-shifters from having something to whine about. I suppose books may improve your writing or your general knowledge about the world, but probably do nothing about a sense of moral responsibility or even common sense.

 

Anti-football railings erected in HDB void deck

From ‘Void deck railings to stop ball games’, 25 Feb 2016, article in ST

A set of barriers that caused confusion among residents of a Queenstown Housing Board block when they were installed at its void deck were set up to stop football being played, Tanjong Pagar Town Council clarified yesterday.

Three railings, each around 3.5m long, were erected across the void deck at Block 143 Mei Ling Street last Saturday, leaving residents scratching their heads and wondering what they had been put there for.

One Facebook user posted a photograph of them and wrote: “(This) space, originally filled with so much potential for use and creativity, is now effectively transformed into a dead space.”

The miscreants were told to stop playing football, as it was not allowed in the area, but to no avail. “Upon discussion with (MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Chia Shi-Lu) and the Residents’ Committee (RC), we installed the barricades… to discourage football activities.

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It’s a dark day for humanity when kids playing soccer in a void deck are called MISCREANTS by journos. The guy on the train playing his handphone game at full blast is a miscreant. The couple having a sex tryst in the stairwell are miscreants.  Amos Yee is miscreant extraordinaire. A town council that wastes our money building obstacles to stop fun things from happening, hence destroying a child’s dream of becoming the next Fandi Ahmad, is the worst offender of them all.

Void decks have been romanticised as ‘community spaces’ and people have won photography contests capturing them in all their concrete, uniquely Singaporean glory. These places are where foreign workers eat and sleep, Chinese traditionally mourn and weep, Malays rejoice in matrimony, Indians sell sundries, a home next to home resonant with chapteh memories, the rustle of old hanging magazines at the mama shop, the echoes of neighbours’ greetings, the squawky horns of the karang guni man and, soon to be a thing of the past, the thuds of balls bouncing off the walls. Void decks were designed to break down the walls between us, but now we’re building them up again.

An entry for the Singapore Stories exhibition, by Alphonsus Chern, 2012

Sometimes barriers do more harm than good. We all know of glass doors in shopping malls that shatter over little children. When the LTA built an anti-bicycle deterrent on overhead bridges to persuade cyclists to get off their bikes, somebody crashed into it and became paralysed. Other bicycle barriers built along void decks proved to be an obstacle not just to errant cyclists, but the disabled as well. If you’re wheelchair bound the only railings you want to see are those you can hang on to for dear life, not those placed in a manner that makes traversing a void deck as painful as solving a booby-trapped labyrinth designed by an evil dungeon master who just wants to fuck with your mind.

If your rose garden is invaded by a family of gophers, grow them on a minefield. This is what erecting barricades in a void deck says to you when you’re home after a hard day’s work. You’re not welcome. Keep out. We already deal with metaphoric cages and choke-chains on a daily basis, and now we’re punished with physical, spiritually toxic ones right below our homes. That’s right, with these new fittings the void deck underneath your flat now looks EXACTLY like a GE polling station save for the yellow lines that you’re not supposed to cross. 24/7. Whatever your opinion of void deck football, about how flying balls tend to hit pregnant women smack in the bellies or how the miscreants of the night keep you awake, you have to admit that this idea is balls-out bonkers.

There is already a dismal lack of play spaces to kick a ball around these days, what with people complaining that grass patches are becoming bald because of the sport. Unlike those up there who only know how to build fences when they can’t figure out how to shepherd a flock, kids these days have more creative ways of wriggling their way around the iron clasps of authority, at risk of putting themselves in even greater danger. Put up a fence and I will climb it. Build a wall and I will tag it with graffiti. Obviously the town council hasn’t heard of parkour, or  groin-crushing skateboarding tricks. Worse, they may give up football altogether and turn your void deck into a flying kendama death trap.

But maybe it’s not just kids who will make the most out of these ugly obstacles. We may lose our football, but we may yet become a nation of champion hurdlers, steeple chasers or calisthenic spider-warriors if those barriers could be put to actual use. Alternatively, if you’re not the active type, you could lean around it fantasising about waiting for the bus, while the foreign worker grumbles next to you about having one more damn thing to wipe down.