Orchard Road’s “Shibuya” Crossing is a Lost Cause
Photography by the author. 

It should have been the popular kid on the block prime shopping district. After all, people have heralded it as Singapore’s “Shibuya crossing”, to be compared to the king of pedestrian crossings.

Who doesn’t want a title like that?

Instead, the scramble crossing now looks over at its little cousin—that narrow crossing between Mandarin Gallery and 313 Somerset—and sighs. Two weeks after it landed on Orchard Road, Singaporeans are more confused about its purpose than ecstatic about its arrival.

Only a tiny handful cross diagonally with ease and confidence. They’ve probably learnt the trick in Japan or London, where it’s become second nature to understand that a scramble crossing is meant to stop all vehicle traffic, thereby allowing pedestrians to cross in all directions at the same time.

There are those who hesitate for a second when the green man comes on. They take half a step forward and then halt in their tracks, afraid that their eyes are playing tricks on them and that they may get hit by oncoming traffic.

When they finally summon the courage to take that first step of faith, they are astounded by how crossing the road is such a breeze. And of course, this is followed by instinctively whipping out their smartphones to document this breathtaking discovery to share with everyone on social media.

Perhaps the word “scramble” in Orchard’s scramble crossing more aptly describes how Singaporeans have to dash to other side of the road after realising they have spent too much time framing their Instagram shot.

Most people, however, still cross the street in the traditional L-shape fashion, much to the scramble crossing’s dismay.

It cannot fathom why people would prefer to cross over from The Heeren to squeeze uncomfortably on the overcrowded pavement outside Mandarin Gallery, just to wade through the sea of bodies to get to Somerset.

Wasn’t its design supposed to take the load off its cousin, and thus give shoppers a better overall experience walking along Orchard Road?

Yet, everyone seems to love squeezing through that constricted passageway. Maybe it’s muscle memory, or maybe it’s just a pure lack of common sense.

“I’m here, use me! Cross diagonally, damn it!” the scramble crossing screams, the fear of missing out creeping in as it looks at the never-ending train of pedestrians chugging along its cousin.

But its desperate cries for attention are drowned out by the vehicular noise, the busker singing a Chinese classic, and the narcissism of selfie-takers pretending they are in Tokyo.

In fact, unlike the actual Shibuya crossing which is a microcosm of human migration, Orchard’s scramble crossing is so desolate that it could host a quick 20-second game of badminton with another 10 seconds for players to dart to safety.

The order of the traffic lights doesn’t help the scramble crossing’s cause either. The multi-directional crossing opens about 15 seconds after the crossing between The Heeren and Mandarin Gallery.

Singaporeans can’t wait that long to cross the road via a clear straight path.

Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) Mark Shaw said in November that the scramble crossing “will allow pedestrians to access the side of the street they most want without waiting for a second traffic light.”

Seeing how it’s dangerously overcrowded outside Mandarin Gallery and nearly void of people at The Heeren, it’s obvious which side of Orchard Road is Singaporeans’ favourite.

The scramble crossing is supposed to ease pedestrian flow along Orchard Road, but it has done nothing to alleviate the congestion between Mandarin Gallery and 313 Somerset.
The scramble crossing is crestfallen. It wonders what its true purpose is, if Singaporeans don’t even need it to be there in the first place.

Maybe 10, 15 years ago, when online shopping was still an idea coined by entrepreneurs in the making, things would have been different. The scramble crossing would have been a welcome addition to a bustling Orchard Road.

Today, however, the Shibuya crossing moniker is a hollow name. In fact, it is an insult to the real deal – a piece of simple yet marvellous urban design.

The Shibuya crossing in Tokyo is functional; Orchard Road’s copycat design is a white elephant.
It seems Orchard’s scramble crossing is only here to fill up Instagram feeds and let urban planners tick a box on a list of afterthoughts to save the shopping street.

And considering that its existence is only an experiment, the scramble crossing suspects it may not be around for much longer.

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