Insights / urban

Empowering transfers to connect communities

Public transportation has an immense impact on urban spaces and the quality of life in cities

Benito Ngotiaoco Jr
Ooi Phaik Sim
June 2023


Public transportation has an immense impact on urban spaces and the quality of life in cities. Darrin Nordahl, in My Kind of Transit, likened public transportation to a “mobile form of public space” that should be made pleasurable, memorable, and enticing on account of its significant benefits to users.1

As designers of the built environment, we constantly challenge ourselves to design transit and urban spaces that keep people safe, happy, and healthy, while being mindful that 68 per cent of the world’s population is projected to live in urban areas by 2050. After all, health and well-being of citizens are a city’s most important asset, and therein lies the opportunity for us to create commuting journeys that empower communities.

“With rare exceptions, every transit trip begins and ends with a walk.”

Jeff Speck
Author of Walkable City2

Effective, Efficient, and Enjoyable Transfers

Intermodal transfers today aim to make journeys within the urban environment seamless, enabled through a layering of different types of transportation and mobility options to produce diverse urban commutes at various scales: city, town, neighbourhood, and community to the last mile. One’s ability to transfer with ease and speed makes the experience of commuting enjoyable.

A memorable transfer is therefore the sum of many parts — directness of a journey, visual, and sensorial delights along the journey, reduced commuting and waiting time, comfort, and safety. As the entire point-to-point journey comprises many connection points in between, a transfer breakdown either at the micro or macro level is akin to a breakdown in communication when brain cells stop sending synapses. It is thus essential that each transfer is carefully designed, starting with major transit connection points, which are part of a larger ecosystem of mobility options such as light rail, buses, taxis, private vehicles, bicycles, and kick-scooters.

Point-to-point connectivity and mobility options

Connectivity Within MRT Stations

In Singapore, Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) stations are major transfer points for most commuters. It is thus imperative for the route within a station leading to the train to be efficient and pleasant, especially during peak hours when passenger volumes are high.

Intuitive Wayfinding Through Clear Circulation

Stevens and Newton MRT Stations

Direct and open planning within the Stevens Station gives clarity to the station layout. Completed in 2022, this interchange station is part of the Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) and connects to the Downtown Line (DTL). Echoing the concept of an interior atrium within a retail mall, which anchors the spaces around it, the routes from entrances and interchange connections are designed to converge into a single, multi-level, unifying open space that helps people navigate.

High-volume spaces and staggering voids that step back lead to wider openings at higher floors to maximise visual connectivity and promote intuitive wayfinding. This is further reinforced by strategically located signages. A pedestrian modelling simulation was utilised to achieve passage width requirements besides ensuring smooth circulation flow between the incoming and outgoing commuters.

Meanwhile, integrated artwork by local artists under the Art in Transit programme serve as a visual anchor within stations such as Newton Station, adding a touch of positivity to an otherwise mundane daily commute.

A triple-volume space enhances visual linkage at Stevens Station

Staggering voids and integrated artwork within Newton Station

Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station

For Dhoby Ghaut Station, a major interchange connecting three main transit lines in the heart of Singapore, the designers were challenged to ensure smooth transfers uninterrupted by the throngs of commuters. At this multi-level structure with six platforms across five basements, the concept of a clear, direct, and open atrium with a hierachy of high ceiling volumes is applied to enhance visual connectivity, ensure clear lines of sight, facilitate transfers as well as reduce blind spots for security and surveillance.

Use of open planning to enhance visual connectivity at Dhoby Ghaut Station

Striking an Optimal Balance

Orchard MRT Station

Seamless connectivity would suggest planning for the most direct route connecting passengers from one transit point to another. In practice, it is an optimal balance between connectivity, constraints, and care for the surroundings.

A case in point is the new component of Orchard Station, named TE14, completed in 2022, that links into the station’s older and existing component through what is currently the deepest paid-to-paid area link in Singapore at 26 metres below ground level. It is located underground within a future government land sale site and will eventually be incorporated as part of upcoming development there. The new TE14 station has a total of five entrances, spread out along Orchard Boulevard and Paterson Road. With detailed consideration for proximity to existing buildings, underground services, and the need to conserve surrounding greenery, the station weaves through existing context to connect commuters coming in from various directions.

To minimise disturbance to the bustling shopping district and existing station, a paid connection is mined under the existing station platform, thus allowing the shortest and most direct route linking the platforms of both stations. Two sets of bypass escalators span across the station between the platform link and concourse levels, traversing a 16-metre vertical height within the paid areas for commuters to avoid crowded platforms, allowing them to get from interchange linkway to the concourse level directly.

Bypass escalators connecting paid areas at the new component of Orchard Station

Meaningful Connective Networks: Inclusive Entrances

Orchard and Newton Stations

Station entrances are important components of connectivity, one of many points in point-to-point travel that could either make or break the journey. While some station entrances are built within buildings, others are erected as standalone pavilions respecting the surrounding site terrain and landscape. Although Newton Station’s entrance is a temporary one to be integrated with a future development, it is conceived as a highly visible urban marker to introduce nature into an urban landscape of walls and cars at the Newton Circus roundabout, besides serving as a link between the community and various transit modes.

A transit space must be designed for accessibility and inclusivity, catering to all including those with disabilities. In line with universal design principles, it calls for the provision of ramps, elevators, tactile signages, seating at waiting areas, and landscape to address commuters’ comfort.

Such features are integrated in the Orchard and Newton Stations, beginning from where the users arrive at the bus and taxi stands, right to the escalators and elevators leading to the stations’ concourse. Gentle ramps run from sheltered arrival points to the station entrances, winding through lush, landscaped gardens. Instead of the conventional pairing of a flight of steps with a functional ramp for barrier-free access, this integrative gesture brings people with different abilities together while manoeuvring across transit modes.

Plan of the Newton Station entrance with a gentle ramp winding through a lush, landscaped garden

The First and Last Mile: People-Centric Connectivity

Singapore’s Land Transport Authority’s 2040 target is for nine in 10 peak-hour commutes to the city to be under 45 minutes, and trips to the nearest neighbourhood centre in under 20 minutes.3 To this end, the provision of cycling facilities and infrastructure covering cycling paths, bicycle parking spaces, and pedestrian walkways are critical in building a car-lite society. Research has shown that sustainable forms of transportation empower commuters and create healthy communities. As reported in the City of Toronto’s Active City: Designing for Health, cities that promote opportunities for active living are more likely to have happier citizens.4

The Last Mile and Beyond

The future of seamless mobility will continue to be shaped by developing trends and technology, notably autonomous, electric, and sustainable intermodal transportation. For instance, Singapore’s Jurong Innovation District provides a testbed for innovations. Aiming at enabling pedestrians, cyclists, and driverless vehicles to effortlessly make the first and last-mile commute, this elevated sky corridor spanning 11 kilometres connects people across the precinct in a loop and the island’s rail network.

With many spending hours in their daily commute, the journey is as important as the destination. Public transit has become a mobile form of public space in today’s cities; one that empowers and connects communities.

The imperative could not be clearer; we design with the entire passenger experience in mind – for ease, comfort, and also delight.

Sky corridor at Bulim Phase 2, Jurong Innovation District


1 Speck, J. (2012). Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

2 Nordahl, D. (2008). My Kind of Transit: Rethinking Public Transportation in America. Island Press.

3 Land Transport Master Plan 2040. LTA. [link]

4 Toronto Public Health, City of Toronto Planning, City of Toronto Transportation Services and Gladki Planning Associates. (2014). Active City: Designing for Health. City of Toronto. [link]

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