Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Jam on Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE)

Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE), Singapore’s 10th expressway opened on the 29th Dec 13. Costing a humongous S4.6 billion to build, MCE is quite an engineering feat as a main section of it runs underground and undersea. MCE provides a link for motorist travelling from east (ECP) to west (AYE) and vice versa, replacing a portion of ECP that runs through the city and frees up valuable land space in the city and the upcoming downtown / marina south area. The first 2 days of opening wasn’t smooth and there are countless news reports and social media rants of confused motorists and jammed road. I took a drive on it on Sunday from home (in Siglap) to church (in Bouna Vista) and back. I would say from east to west was pretty straightforward, with clear signs on when to turn to MCE, but when coming back, there was some confusion and we had to do a super left filter to get to exit leading to the ECP. Some of the possible reasons why I think it wasn't a smooth sailing opening are as follows

Unfamiliarity of the new road.

The MCE introduced several key changes to roads, in particular around the downtown area. The most significant change was that motorist have to use the MCE to get from the east to the west (meaning ECP-MCE-AYE). This change is pretty straightforward and should not cost much issues. The main issues were the conversion of ECP over Sheares Bridge to a main arterial road and the resulting changing of road to get in and out of the downtown area from the expressways. People driving there for the first time would be unfamiliar and may not know which exit and entrance to take.

No significant landmarks.

Most experienced drivers would rely on both road signs and surrounding landmarks to know their current location and to make the necessary anticipation to turn out of the exit nearest to their destination. However, with MCE being largely underground, motorists only had road signs to rely on (underground ‘landmarks’ familiarity would likely come later when motorist drive through it a couple of times more), thus how early the driver can anticipate and filter to the left to exit would depend on how early the driver has seen the road signs. On our drive back home on 29 Dec 13, we saw the first road sign in MCE that says to keep left to turn to ECP (Changi) and with the assumption that the exit is nearby, we immediately tried to filter left from the first lane, only to realise that the exit was still quite a distance away. It didn’t help that as MCE was stated as the replacement for ECP, one’s mind map would assume to just keep driving straight to connect to ECP, without the need to filter left. Also, looking at the current alignment of the road towards the east, the KPE is actually on the left of ECP, thus one would assume while driving on MCE to keep left to KPE and keep right to ECP. Alas, it turn out that MCE was not aligned that way.

 Over reliance of GPS and online navigation sites.

The MCE was designed not as an alternative road but a rather a replacement road. For alternative roads, if you want to get to a destination using a GPS or an online navigation site with the opening of this road, you would still likely reach your designation by using the old (perhaps slower) road. For replacement road, this could not be achieved unless the map data in your GPS or the online navigation site is updated with the new map. As of last check on 30th Dec 13, both popular navigation websites, streetdirectory.com.sg and maps.google.com.sg, have not updated their map database to reflect the opening of MCE (though streetdirectory.com.sg has put MCE as under construction). Thus far, only SLA's onemap. Popular GPS manufacturers (Garmin, TomTom) also did not seem to have any updated maps for download on their sites.

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