Bukit Batok SMC MP Murali Pillai brought up the cost residents would have to bear if a footpath was built in the vicinity of Block 190 Bukit Batok West Ave 6, after Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan repeated his call for the MP to take action to better protect pedestrians from oncoming traffic in the area.
The disagreement between Dr Chee and Mr Murali over this footpath issue stretches back to the beginning of September, when Dr Chee said that the lack of a walkway in the area poses a danger to pedestrians since they are forced to walk on the road alongside traffic.
Revealing that several residents he spoke to wanted a footpath to be constructed, Dr Chee said that a resident brought the matter up to Mr Murali but was told that this is not possible since people would also want a shelter if a walkway was constructed. He called on the authorities to build a footpath immediately to better protect pedestrians.
The very next day, on 7 Sept, Mr Murali responded that it is “simply wrong” for Dr Chee to say that there is a lack of footpaths or viable routes since residents can walk through the void decks and disputed the insinuation that residents are forced to walk on the road or on the grass patch.
Calling on his constituents to walk through the void decks, Mr Pillai implied that the facts were not accurately presented in Dr Chee’s post and that people could have been misled by the suggestions about the lack of footpath.
Dr Chee hit back and said that the routes Mr Murali suggested could be unsafe and inaccessible at times. He added that the best argument for a footpath is the fact that the authorities already built a tiny one along part of the road, that extends for just a few metres before and after the carpark gantry.
Pointing out that it is obvious that the authorities built the tiny pavement for the use of pedestrians, Dr Chee asked why the pavement cannot be extended. He called on Mr Murali to stop giving “excuses” and build a walkway for the safety of residents before something untoward occurs.
The footpath issue came to the fore nearly two weeks later, after a resident invited both Dr Chee and Mr Murali for a meeting on Wednesday (16 Sept) to discuss the need for a footpath. While Dr Chee showed up to meet with the resident, Mr Ong, Mr Murali was absent.
In a Facebook post published on Thursday (17 Sept), Dr Chee said that Mr Ong told him that Mr Murali contacted him to inform him that cost was a factor against the construction of the pavement and that a sheltered walkway is too expensive to construct and maintain.
Responding to the explanation Mr Murali gave Mr Ong, Dr Chee pointed out that Bukit Batok residents are asking for a simple concrete sidewalk – not a sheltered footpath. Claiming that Mr Murali has no qualms about the cost for other structures that seem to have little use in the ward, Dr Chee wrote wrote:
“If Mr Murali had spoken to the residents, he would know that they are not asking for a sheltered walkway but simply a concrete pavement to be built so that they don’t have to walk on the road or in mud on the grass patch. The shelter argument is a strawman one.
“Why do I say this? A landscaped mini-park was constructed right next to the road. In it, there is a lookout point over a canal which hardly anyone uses and an “amphitheatre” with seats facing a patch of overgrown grass built in the middle of nowhere that no one asked for and nobody uses. These are expensive structures that serve no apparent purpose.”
Dr Chee also took Mr Pillai to task for citing cost as a factor when he remains silent about other expenses that could have been financed more frugally.
Pointing out that Mr Murali has not expressed opposition to the high ministerial salaries his ruling party colleagues earn, the SDP chief has asked why the MP “suddenly becomes very cost conscious” when asked to build a simple footpath to ensure the safety of his constituents:
“It is interesting that Mr Murali cites cost as a factor for building a pavement. When it comes to paying nearly $1m for a rubbish dump or spending $40m for a National Day parade or ministers lavishing themselves with million-dollar salaries, we don’t hear much from Mr Murali.
“But when it comes to a footpath in BB, he suddenly becomes very cost conscious.”
Dr Chee also pointed out that the authorities at Toa Payoh built a walkway for the use of residents even though a building corridor runs parallel to the walkway and asked why this cannot be done in Bukit Batok.
Asserting that the Bukit Batok residents are not fooled by the “strawman excuses” offered up by the authorities, Dr Chee repeated his call for Mr Murali to build a concrete pavement without delay.
Hours after Dr Chee published his latest post on the matter, Mr Murali took to Facebook and touched on the footpath issue. Mr Murali began his post by recalling how the authorities built linkways bit by bit every year in the ward since it was created over 30 years ago.
Adding that his focus is on “blocks which do not have sheltered linkways yet,” Mr Murali shared about how he has seen the sheltered walkway network serving blocks 187 to 192 grow since he started volunteering in the ward two decades ago. Adding that this walkway network is also accessible by mobility challenged residents, he wrote:
“When Bukit Batok was built 30 plus years ago, there were no linkways and drop-off points. We built these bit by bit every year. Our focus is naturally on blocks which do not have sheltered linkways yet.
“I started volunteering here 20 years ago. One of the projects I have seen completed was the sheltered walkway network serving blocks 187 to 192 and the bus-stop at Ave 1. Over the years, we have extended it as the population grew and with the completion of Skyline 1.
“Each time it rains, I am heartened that our residents, especially our mobility challenged residents, can make their way through more comfortably.”
In his post, Dr Chee said that numerous residents have told him that they don’t use the void decks because they are much longer and more inconvenient.
Using a map showing the sheltered walkway network serving blocks 187 to 192, Dr Chee suggested that residents walk along the road and grass patch despite oncoming traffic to cut down on their travel time since the path through the sheltered walkway network serving blocks 187 to 192 is not straight and, so, more time consuming to walk through.
Indicating that there are no plans to build a footpath near block 190, Mr Murali said that this is because a sheltered walkway network already exists and because the costs of building a “linkway” may not be the best use of funds at the moment.
Highlighting the costs that residents would have to bear if a “linkway” was built, Mr Murali said that “it’s not about the money” but more about “the needs of residents”. He wrote in his post:
“Fact no: 1 – A sheltered linkway serving blocks 187 to 194B is available. One further sheltered linkway at Blk 185 is under construction. (I am not referring to unsheltered walkways or aprons – these are different and we should not confuse them).
“Fact no: 2 – To build a linkway, Bukit Batok residents have to absorb 10% of the construction costs and 100% of maintenance costs. But it’s not about the money – over the years we have spent millions on miles of linkways. It is about the needs of residents – to build a sheltered linkway when one already exists may simply not be the best way to weigh competing needs.”
The ruling party politician added, rather cryptically: “I have always preferred bridges over fences, and I think linkways are the shortest lines between two friends, don’t you?”
[Building Bridges & Making Connections]When Bukit Batok was built 30 plus years ago, there were no linkways and…