What Wrong with Nparks?

Nparks seems to be putting in an extraordinary effort to prevent people from visiting the nature reserves and parks.

First, it closed off the entire Bukit Timah Nature Reserve for a massive restoration when it could have easily obtained the same results by closing it section by section.  Then even before that is completed, it closed Butterfly Trail for maintenance and upgrading as well! I am not too sure what is the urgency. But closing so many areas and forcing the people to continue to congest in MacRitchie and whatever remains of the Bukit Timah area! No wonder the accident rates between bikers and hikers are creeping up. And now there rumours that Gangsa Trail will also be closed!  So is Nparks returning the whole catchment area to Mother Nature or are there plans to turn the whole area into a sterile giant park?

Not content with driving people out of the Central Catchment areas it has now turn its attention to discouraging people from going to the beautifully manicured parks that dot the island. In the stroke of a gantry, paid parking have sprung up in almost all the major parks.  As most park visitors will know, with the exception of a few town parks, most of the other parks are not in exactly very easily accessible places and most time people really need to drive there. Most of these parks like at MacRitchie, Dairy Farm Pasir Ris, West Coast, East Coast and Admiralty used to have free ,parking. Now Nparks said because there are abuses of the car park by nearby residents and heavy vehicle drivers, it has to impose paid parking. What baloney! There has always been free parking and abuses. But the situation was not so bad to warrant such drastic actions. At most, the most popular and nearest carparks to HDB estates and commercial building are affected but many car parks are practically empty during the week days. While I have no quarrel with curbing the abuses, Nparks should have studied the problem closely, perhaps introduce paid parking only for those period where there are abuses meaning overnight parking and introduced some sort of tier or timed parking with a grace period. But of course it took the easy way out. Just introduce paid parking across the board. No need to worry about the details. And if less people goes to the park, better still. Less people means less damage to the park and less maintenance.

Nparks has done a fantastic job of greening Singapore but it is taking the Garden City too literally and turning all the green clumps of hills and forested areas that we have into a big garden with beautiful and neat hedges, manicured lawns, trees that looks good but provide no shades and no places for birds and other wild creatures to hide in.

Our Sanitized Trails

I have not been back for long runs at MacRitchie or Bukit Timah for some time. So I was looking forward to getting reacquainted with the trails. Unfortunately its look like soon the trails will be no more and all we have left will be a forest with nice concrete pavement.

At MacRitchie just next to the Sime Course, this used to be a very rocky trail with a lot of roots and uneven ground. It is now paved over with steps.

DSC_0101 The rest of the trail is no better. The roots and rocks and uneven ground is now covered with a layer of granite chips.DSC_0102

I don’t know whether the Nparks people think this is safe. To me it is certainly not. The roots and rocks are still there. Just covered by the granite. Shoes has no grip on the loose chips and there is no depth perception. So runners will still stumble over or kick a piece of rock. Is it safer now? I don’t really think so. It gives a false sense of security that is all.

But what really shocked me was this piece of pavement at the Kampong Trail. I don’t recall this stretch being so bad that it need to be paved over.DSC_0147

Even the Green Corridor has not been spared this sanitization.DSC_0149

Do they really need this little path to exit the green corridor to Rifle Range Road? Seriously! Is Nparks trying to protect the plant, the ground or molly coddle us?

If this is what they are doing, I dread to see the inside of Bukit Timah when the restoration is completed. And indeed a little bird has told me that there are now small concrete steps where previously there were rough uneven height steps. Arrrggghhhhh

A Letter to Nparks on MacRitchie Reservoir

Dear Nparks,

Thank you Nparks for thinking of our welfare and safety.

Thank you so much for putting in more fine gravels and providing such nice mini steps so that our precious feet in our expensive running shoes will not be dirty and we will not trip over those sharp ugly rocks and roots and injure ourselves.
Since Nparks place such premium on taking care of us who visit MacRitchie Reservoir park, can I request for more?
– How about providing a shelter throughout the whole trail. That way, rain or shine we can visit the beautiful park and be in tune with nature. And no need to worry about falling branches injuring anyone.
– Also our weather is rather hot most of the time and it can get pretty hot and stuffy under the trees. So maybe when building the shelter, Nparks, you can consider like put in air con. Maybe enclosed the whole shelter, put in air condition and while we at it, maybe a travelator like those at the SEA Aquarium. Then really, rain or shine we can visit the park. No need to get wet. Our expensive Nike shoes won’t get dirty and best of all, the filthy monkey can’t get our lobster roll.
– At every 500 metres, provide drink vending machine. As you know, it is rather hot in Singapore and I am sure you don’t want us poor park visitor to get dehydrated. And of course I am sure you know that we Singaporeans are so gentle, we don’t have strength to carry water bottles so a drink machine every 500 metres will help us fill our hydration needs.
And oh I noted that you are doing some major renovation works at the Male shower area for the past months. It looks like very major since it is taking so long. I am rather excited. I hope Nparks instead of having stupid open shower, can you provide jacuzzi and onsen instead. Those smelly fellas who want to bath can bath inside the shower stall. The rest of us after walking around the park, will surely enjoy a nice soak in the jacuzzi or onsen. So please do take your time to do up the place nicely. 
I am so looking forward to the air con sheltered trail walk, the jacuzzi and the onsen. Thank you in advance.
Your most loyal MacRitchie Reservoir visitor.

Nparks and Brompton Bikes

The issue over Nparks purchase of the Brompton Bikes have been raging on for some time. The net have been abuzz with speculation and one smart guy even did a “CSI” investigation and came up with several theories and innuendoes. I am a bit kiasee wait kena sue so I am not going to repeat what was written but I am going to go through what our Minister for National Development said in the defence of Nparks purchase and rebut his defence.
1. Why foldable bikes? The good Minister said: “Providing staff with bikes was thought to be a simple and effective way to raise staff productivity as it enables the officer to cover more ground and do more inspections within the same time. And if the bikes are foldable, it would eliminate the need for an office van to transport the bikes and the staff to the areas of their daily rounds. Just like a good baby stroller, NParks officers could just rely on public transport and carry the foldable bikes up and down our trains and buses, without breaking their backs or inconveniencing the public”. 

Sure but how many Nparks officers are really going to carry their foldable bikes around, take public transport and to to the parks for their rounds? Since January until now when the bikes were purchased, have anybody seen any? I for one can’t imagine any public servant willing to lug the bike around say from Nparks office, take the train to Bedok MRT and then cycle to Bedok Town Park and continue to cycle there. The bikes may not be that heavy but try carrying it around the whole day and I guarantee no Npark staff is going to be thankful to their office for “improving their productivity
2. Why Brompton? NParks clarified that it had no particular brand in mind. It was open to considering all brands. Hence, the quotation on the Government website adopted general specifications to ensure that as many dealers as possible could come in.

Unfortunately, at the close of the quotation, only one vendor responded with two options, offering Brompton and another brand (at a higher price). NParks made some research, tested the equipment and after noting that the Brompton bid price was lower than the listed retail price of the same model, proceeded with the procurement.

As the smart CSI had investigated and stated in his post, in fact the Nparks appear to have a particular brand in mind judging from the very specific specifications that was stated in the tender. Further, the tender period was unnaturally short, lasting all of 5 days including a weekend and during the CNY festive period to boot, and therefore did not attract the attention of any other bike supplier. Instead of accepting that only one vendor had responded, the Nparks should have called for another tender and this time giving a longer notice period. But of course there seems to be some reasons why this could not be done.

3. Right bike? Mr Khaw said “Cyclists who are familiar with foldable bikes assured me that a Brompton bike, while costing more upfront, is durable and requires less maintenance, especially if heavy usage is anticipated. Its unique folding mechanism also makes it easy to carry and store. This is a useful feature for the female staff. 
I have accepted NParks’ explanation.
It looks like NParks has bought the right equipment.”

Yes the Brompton is without doubt a good bike. I have a friend who have 2 of them and he swears by them but even he disagreed with the Minister’s view.
i). The Brompton bike is durable but it is a road bike first and foremost. The Nparks officer in their course of work will have to cycle within the parks. Some parks are pretty straight forward like Punggol Waterway. Others are a mixture of pavement and trails like Admiralty Park. So what happen when the Nparks spot something in the bush or trees further away and has to take a closer look? Are they going to ride the bike onto the grass? push it? or leave it on the PCN and walk into the bush? 
ii) Durable and require less maintenance. Less maintenance does not mean no maintenance and from what I heard, the vendor in this case is not the authorised dealer and will not be able to provide the necessary support notwithstanding that they have given a 1 year warranty. And everybody knows that the maintenance parts really only kick in by the 2nd or 3rd year by which time the warranty would be over. What then? Write off the bike? And by the way, if Nparks had got the bike from the authorised dealer, the guarantee will be for 5 years!
Right equipment? I doubt!
Finally, there are serious allegations being raised on the web about the tendering process. Whether these allegations are unfounded or not, the authorities should initial an investigation. If there are impropriety by anybody, the culprits should be punished according to the government’s usual high standard of governance. If there is no wrongdoings, then those people who have been named in the postings can be exonerated and maybe even sue their accusers for defamation.
In the name of greater transparency and to satisfy the public clamour, why not ask the CAD, CPIB or the Auditor General to launch an investigation? What say you, Mr Khaw?