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Possibly Singapore’s shortest road

This is Jalan Ulu Seletar, possibly Singapore’s shortest road.

The road, off city-bound Sembawang Road, is around 5 metres in length, only slightly longer than an average-sized car. In fact, if not for the road sign proclaiming its existence, I would have mistaken it for a parking lot.

I can’t imagine another road shorter than this. Of course, it wasn’t always this way.

Jalan Ulu Seletar is at least a century old. It appears on a 1923 map as an unnamed track skirting around a hill 105 feet in height; the track is highlighted blue.

Base picture credit: The National Archives (United Kingdom).

The hill was north of Seletar Village, also known as Chan Chu Kang, later renamed Nee Soon Village; it was west of mangrove swamps lining the shores of the Sungei Seletar, the area’s largest river. The track most probably served the rubber plantation in the area, ending in a rubber factory to the north.

The track was named in July 1948, as one of nine roads in the rural districts, three of them in Sembawang.

As reported in The Straits Times: “The three new roads at Sembawang are Jalan Ulu Seletar at the 10½ milestone, Jalan Kuala Sempang (Simpang) at the 12¾ milestone, and Jalan Ulu Sembawang at the 13 milestone.

“One (Rural Board) member remarked: ‘These names in Malay seem quite a mouthful.’

“Another retorted: ‘They are descriptive and I consider them apt titles to the district they serve.’”

Credit: Singapore Press Holdings.

And so the names stuck. I would consider “Jalan Ulu Seletar” to be appropriate for the area, because “Ulu” was a local term for “upriver”, and the road was in the upriver portion of the Sungei Seletar.

Below is a map of the area in 1953. The rubber plantations which Jalan Ulu Seletar served have disappeared, replaced by “unclassified minor cultivation” (M. C.) and cleared land (C. L.).

Base picture credit: Survey Department, Singapore.

Two years later, in 1955, a surau was erected along the road to serve the community. As it was near Nee Soon Village, it was named Surau Nee Soon Jalan Ulu Seletar.

In 1961, the surau was expanded and upgraded to a mosque to cater to the growing number of worshippers. It was also renamed Masjid Ahmad Ibrahim, after the Assemblyman for Sembawang, who had contributed to efforts to upgrade the surau. (This despite the mosque being in the constituency of Nee Soon, not Sembawang.) Ahmad Ibrahim would pass away the following year of an illness, aged just 35.

Ahmad Ibrahim.

Below is a map of the area in 1970. There was a village along much of the length of the road; Masjid Ahmad Ibrahim was most probably the building highlighted red.

Base picture credit: Survey Department, Singapore.

The present address of the mosque is 15 Jalan Ulu Seletar, even though it is at the junction of Sembawang Road and Jalan Ulu Seletar. The reason is because Sembawang Road in the area used to curve around hills. Up to the mid-1970s, the mosque was a short distance from the Sembawang Road junction. However, between 1976 and 1978, the stretch of Sembawang Road in the area was straightened for the sake of motor traffic. Hence, a short length of Jalan Ulu Seletar was cut off by the new, straightened Sembawang Road, and the mosque ended up at the new junction.

Below is a map of the area in 1978. While Jalan Ulu Seletar is in blue, the former curved part of Sembawang Road is in yellow, while the cut-off portion of Jalan Ulu Seletar is in green.

The yellow and green portions remained on maps until 1991, after which I assume they were mostly expunged. A small curve has survived, but is off limits, inside Nee Soon Camp.

Base picture credit: Google Maps.

I found a good photo of Jalan Ulu Seletar which is dated around 1980, but it contains a little mystery.

Credit: Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

This looks like the Sembawang Road junction, but the large body of water in the background looks too close to the junction. Maps tell me the Sungei Seletar and ponds near its shores would have been further away from the junction. And Jalan Ulu Seletar never shared a junction with another major road.

Anyway, below is a map of the area in 1991. By now, Jalan Ulu Seletar was hemmed in by Yishun Avenue 1 to the north and Lentor Avenue to the east, while the Sungei Seletar had been dammed into a reservoir known as Lower Seletar Reservoir today.

The last of Jalan Ulu Seletar’s villagers vacated their homes by 1993. Thereafter, most of the road was expunged for private developments served by new roads such as Springside Road, Springside View, and Springside Avenue. Only a short segment of around 50 metres from the Sembawang Road junction survived to serve Masjid Ahmad Ibrahim.

Masjid Ahmad Ibrahim today.

Up to 2019, the road seemed accessible to motor vehicles, at least on Google Street View. One of the two lanes was used for parking. However, after 2020, the road looked closed to motor traffic.

My guess is that the need for COVID-19 safety check-ins for mosque goers necessitated the closure of the road, allowing people to queue outside the entrance.

On the left is Springside Park; on the right is Jalan Ulu Seletar, now closed to motor traffic, next to the entrance of Masjid Ahmad Ibrahim.

The closed road is now used for mosque goers to queue up outside the mosque.

As a result, the only stretch of road still accessible to motor vehicles is a roughly 5-metre segment next to the original road - and that is the present Jalan Ulu Seletar.

And thus concludes the story of how possibly Singapore’s shortest road came to be.


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