SINGAPORE Orchard Road has long been one of the most iconic locations in Singapore, and a symbol of the country's economic success. But the shopping street is being eclipsed in popularity by malls and e-commerce as consumer habits change.
The Singapore government and members of the private sector are working to fix that, making the road more pedestrian-friendly to help it maintain visitor traffic and give it a livelier atmosphere.
One of the biggest ideas is the trial adoption of a "scramble crossing" like the famous Tokyo pedestrian crosswalk next to Shibuya Station. Another move is a ban on outdoor smoking in the area -- except at five designated spaces.
Orchard Road is one of the most famous shopping areas in Southeast Asia. It runs about 2km east to west with five one-way lanes at its center, flanked by spacious sidewalks that are lined with shops, including European luxury brand stores, and branches of Japan's Takashimaya and Isetan department stores.
In December, Japan's discount giant Don Quijote Holdings opened its first Singapore outlet in the area. There are also many hotels, helping make the area popular with tourists.
The Shibuya-style crossing was introduced in December on a trial basis near Somerset Station close to the west end of the road. Foot traffic is especially high in this area where a massive mall and an H&M store are located.
Every two minutes or so, the lights turn green, and pedestrians can cross in any direction for around 40 seconds. Although the scramble crossing is smaller than the Shibuya version, it has been well received by people.
Singaporean Chew Yan Hui, 19, who was shopping in the area one recent weekend, said the intersection is "good because you can avoid wasting time, especially when you [are in a] rush."
The trial continued through Jan. 28, only on weekends and public holidays. The initiative may be expanded, depending on public feedback.
In July, a ban on outdoor smoking will begin. The policy was created mainly by the National Environment Agency and the Orchard Road Business Association as a way to make the area more inviting to shoppers.
Currently, trash cans with ashtrays are placed at intervals of several dozen meters. These will be replaced with trash cans that do not have ashtrays. Following a three-month transition period, offenders will be fined up to 1,000 Singapore dollars ($758), starting in October.
ICONIC REVIVAL Orchard Road has been a thriving area since the 1970s. But starting in the 2000s, large commercial facilities began opening in suburban Singapore, attracting business away from Orchard Road. Retail space in the country totaled 6.05 million sq. meters as of last September, up 10% or so from five years earlier.
The rise of e-commerce has also chipped away at the popularity of brick-and-mortar shopping.
With Orchard Road being such a major symbol of Singapore, it is all the more important to both the public and private sectors that the area maintains and improves its appeal to visitors.
In addition to the scramble crossing and smoking ban, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Singapore Tourism Board announced in December a plan to spend six months studying the future development of Orchard Road.
"The findings and recommendations from the study will be incorporated into a blueprint that will help guide the development of Orchard Road over the next 15 to 20 years," the two organizations said.