Data indicates concrete kings still insist on taking roads to nowhere

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 July, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 July, 2004, 12:00am

THE RULE IN the news writing business is to lead with something bright and easily comprehensible. Try this for a breach of the rule:

Enter it into your web browser and you will be led to the contents page for the government's Third Comprehensive Transport Study. Next, click on the heading Background to CTS-3, scroll two thirds of the way down and you will see a table 2.3 with some way over-the-top forecasts for population growth in 2016, as well as vehicle use and public transport patronage. Go to the bottom of the section and you will see the notation that it was last updated in October 2003.

I cited these figures in a column two weeks ago in which I made mention of a road-mad transport department that is reluctant to face the reality of much lower growth than it had forecast and unwilling to trim back its plans for slathering our landscape in concrete and bitumen.

The transport department was predictably not happy with this and yesterday we published a letter from a K.B. To for the commissioner for transport ('Traffic data updated') which made claim of there being regular updates of traffic forecasts by the department.

Right. Let us go to question one. Could we have these updates please? When did you people make them and by how much have the CTS-3 forecasts now been slashed? In particular, have you incorporated a recent census study that projects population in 2016 at 7.56 million people, not the 8.934 million that CTS-3 envisages? I have not heard a peep from you on this score yet.

Now perhaps, as the letter suggests, I have made the error of quoting only the study's high-growth scenario and ignoring the medium and low-growth scenarios.

I plead innocent. The 8.934 million population figure is from the medium-growth scenario and if the transport department has chosen in that critical table 2.3 to mix in figures from the high-growth scenario on vehicle usage, it was not my choice. I was given that one table. I have to assume it is the operative one.

Equally, when this web page is marked as updated to October last year, I have to assume that it truly is.

The transport department's letter tries to dodge this notation by stating: 'Also, the date shown in our website refers to the updating for the web page, not the CTS-3 report.'

Get off it, fellas. What is the difference between updating a web page and updating its contents? If you have not updated the contents or, at the very least provided a reference to updates, then you have not updated the web page, period.

But let us assume that the forecasts have indeed been updated to take into account such realities as that there are now 6 per cent fewer goods vehicles on the road than in 1997 while the original CTS-3 study envisaged there would now be about 44 per cent more.

Let us say that our transport planning is fully in tune with the times and the department accepts that its original CTS-3 study was way off the rails (which by the way, it recommends over roadways, giving us a new definition of saying one thing but doing the other).

This then introduces the big question. Could you people please tell us which road, bridge, tunnel and rail proposals you have now scrapped of all the ones that you drew up and started on the basis of CTS-3 and earlier studies? Surely the one must lead to the other.

If you now accept that your population forecasts were way out of line and that your projections for private vehicle and public transport usage bordered on the ridiculous, then you must have cancelled some of your big projects by now. Yet only recently you started construction of that ludicrous and costly Stonecutters Bridge from nowhere to nowhere.

Which projects have you then binned? I am all ears.

Let us get it straight that you cannot plead existing traffic congestion as a reason for still pushing them all through. Only recently you boasted in public that the average car journey speed in Hong Kong is 25.6 km/h as compared with 25-30 km/h in Singapore and 14.3 km/h in London.

Nor can you plead that our existing transport infrastructure needs upgrading to the latest engineering and safety standards. You have already built it all to the very highest standards with the result that some of these big interchanges take up three times as much scarce land as they really require.

Ask yourselves honestly now and you can keep the answer private. Is it not your worry that your own careers will suffer and your transport empire will be diminished if you accept reality and cut back on your big ideas? Does the biggest question here actually lie with you yourselves?