The treble-carriageway by the Promenade

6 05 2010

As with many things in Singapore, names by which places or features that were once known by, have been lost with the passage of time and development. In some cases, the names would no longer be relevant, features after which the names were based on being altered by the wave of development that has swept over much of Singapore. There are many examples of this around the island, islands being lost – absorbed by larger entities, hills being flattened, and coastlines moving further into the sea. One of the victims of this is one of the prides of a self-governing Singapore, constructed through volunteer labour in an effort to reduce costs at a time when austerity was a necessity, the Peoples’ Promenade, also known as the Nicoll Highway Promenade, or The Promenade for short.

Nicoll Highway, seen in this photograph on the right with its centre carriageway, was built on land reclaimed in the 1920s. A promenade, dubbed the Peoples' Promenade, which ceased to exist due to further land reclamation in the area, was built using volunteer labour to save costs and was opened in 1959. (Source: c. 1969).

The Promenade used to run along the coast by the Nicoll Highway, and started from where the Esplanade left off at the Stamford Canal, running along the length of what had been the coast to the Merdeka Bridge. The Promenade opened in 1959, and was a place where families could take evening walks and enjoy the sea breeze, or where one could do a spot of fishing. It was with us when I was growing up in the 1960s up to the 1970s when the commencement of land reclamation in 1971 saw the Promenade losing its appeal before being completely made irrelevant by the 67 hectares of land which was added to the area  of the sea where the Promenade was. This was part of a massive reclamation project which stretched from Prince Edward Road all the way eastward to Changi, giving Singapore a total of 1162 hectares of land along its southern coastline by the time it was completed in 1978.

Nicoll Highway and the Merdeka Bridge, looking westwards towards the city, seen here as a dual carriageway in the early 1960s. A third centre carriageway was added in the mid 1960s to cope with the increasing volume of traffic (Source:

The Nicoll Highway by which the Promenade ran along was itself constructed on land reclaimed in the early 1900s known as the Beach Road reclamation. It opened together with Merdeka Bridge in 1956 to provide a necessary arterial road from the East into the city to alleviate congestion on the roads bringing traffic from the heavily populated eastern shoreline to the city centre. Built originally as a dual carriageway, with two lanes on each carriageway, it later needed to be expanded in the mid 1960s to cope with the increased volume of traffic. Hence a third carriageway was built, right smack in the centre of the highway, providing three additional lanes on which flow could be reversed to regulate flow based on the direction of the peak hour traffic. The third carriageway was opened only to the faster vehicles, opened to city-bound traffic in the mornings and east-bound traffic moving away from the city in the evenings. The idea for a flow reversible centre carriageway on a highway wasn’t new by itself, with similar systems being mooted as far back as the 1930s in the more advanced countries. This system lasted right up to the early 1990s when Nicoll Highway was converted back into a dual carriageway that is it today.

The Nicoll Highway, Singapore

An aerial view of Nicoll Highway in 1958 over the area where the Golden Mile Complex stands today(Source: National Archives of Singapore).

The Golden Mile Complex seen from Nicoll Highway opened in 1973 as an integrated mixed use complex, to much acclaim within architectural circles.

Where you would have once seen the sea. The area south of Nicoll Highway and the Promenade is now reclaimed on which the Marina Complex has been erected.

The Merdeka Bridge opened in 1956 as part of the much needed Nicoll Highway, providing a link from the populated eastern shoreline of Singapore to the city centre over the Kallang River.

The Kallang Basin seen from the Merdeka Bridge, looking a lot cleaner than it would have when the bridge opened in 1956.