Q Do you think the Central-Wan Chai bypass should go ahead?
I was very much amused by the comments of Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands Michael Suen Ming-yeung concerning the need for a bypass and citing traffic congestion as a reason for the reclamation and the reason why the public must decide to 'reclaim or suffer traffic jams'.
The public is powerless in this matter. Road traffic policy is in the hands of the government and the relevant departments. Both have continued to turn a deaf ear to a wide range of creative suggestions from those who travel in the area on how to alleviate the congestion.
Congestion from Central to Wan Chai arises not from public desire, but from the government's lack of imagination and inability to think out of the box (or out of the bypass) when developing alternative road-traffic strategies.
Severe congestion along Hardcourt Road, Gloucester Road, Harbour Road, Convention Avenue and Hung Hing Road naturally occurs during morning and evening rush hours. At any other time, these roads appear to be relatively congestion-free.
When driving along these roads to and from work, my impression is that it is the convoys of buses, when they change from one lane to another or suddenly stop, that cause the congestion - and, in some cases, accidents.
This is compounded in the evenings just before the start or end of an exhibition at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, when at rush hour, delivery trucks cause absolute chaos by queueing along the roads around the centre.
Does the government not have the imagination to consider the following:
The Western Harbour Crossing is very much underused. Subsidise the tunnel's operating cost and reduce its tolls. This would encourage people who consider the toll to be too expensive to use this route instead of the Cross-Harbour Tunnel.
Reduce the number of cross-harbour bus routes. The transport strategy should be changed so that the bus companies mainly feed MTR hubs (predominantly on the mainland side). The rail system could carry the cross-harbour bus passengers.
West Rail and the Tung Chung lines appear to be underused, as is the MTR east route extension from Po Lam. For example, the route of New World Bus No 111 from Choi Hung to Central leaves from the Choi Hung MTR station and serves a lot of areas that are also served by the MTR.
Proper use of the Star Ferry. Tsim Sha Tsui East rail station is now in close walking distance to the Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry pier, offering passengers a congestion-free crossing to Central and Wan Chai.
Redevelop the bus terminal at the pier to attract commuters to use the ferries to cross the harbour.
Hunghom Star Ferry pier should be relocated next to Hunghom railway station, offering passengers an easy exchange from the KCR to a congestion-free ferry crossing to Central and Wan Chai, rather than by bus. Currently, the underused pier is badly located off Whampoa.
Implement measures to encourage delivery trucks to load and unload at the exhibition centre outside the evening rush hour.
Or is the bypass yet another costly smokescreen for another office development along the waterfront? It's time to be honest, government. Are you for the public or for the developers?
Colin Ip, Sai Kung
Q What is your favourite country park and why?
I read with great interest your article 'Popular peak poses dilemma for park' regarding the erosion problems on and around Sharp Peak.
On a recent visit to Sharp Peak I was saddened and alarmed to see the accelerated rate of erosion caused by hikers. Your photograph showed the hills above Sai Wan, whereas a view from Sharp Peak would have shown a much uglier scene of degradation.
I was also shocked to see the damage caused by the installation of a water pipe (apparently serving the uninhabited valley of Nam She) along the approach to Sharp Peak from the main public footpath at Tai Long Au to Nam She Au. The existing track has been replaced by a devegetated swathe up to 5 metres wide.
Rather than take the opportunity to reinstate a durable footpath for this heavily used route, a totally inappropriate series of steps, already showing signs of erosion, has been installed.
As if this wasn't enough, a fenced compound (function unknown) has appeared, sitting high on the skyline with no attempt at integration with the environment. Can the relevant government departments explain the need for such works and justify the insensitive construction within an area of natural beauty?
While there is always a dilemma in providing paved surfaces in natural areas, I would suggest that in this case it is a step that must be taken to safeguard the landscape and if done properly can enhance the environment for the benefit of today's and future generations. Hong Kong's projected population increase and the trend for increased participation in outdoor pursuits suggests that the pressure will only increase.
Active management and control of access is essential. As the existing trails are poor and dispersed, hikers spread the impact further in their search for a safe foothold.
An effective access management plan (of which there are many successful international examples) should concentrate traffic on fewer well-defined and durable paths, relieving the pressure on others.
By encouraging access away from eroded areas, they can be revegetated and eventually restored to their natural state. Durable paths need not be ugly and out of character with the natural environment. The steep trail from the Po Lin Monastery to Lantau Peak, constructed of local stone, is a fine example of a heavily used path that can cope with the physical demands placed upon it while blending perfectly with the environment.
A successful access management plan requires a continuing financial commitment to monitor and maintain. The evidence suggests the AFD does not have a sufficient budget to deal with the task. If we can afford to spend public money to subsidise reclamation of the South China Sea for purely speculative projects, we can certainly afford to spend the relative peanuts to conserve a known and unique historical, ecological and recreational public resource.
If any further justification were needed, why not ask the 2 million visitors (locals and tourists) who all endorsed the value of the park with their footsteps last year.
Another way to fund the works is to raise the revenue through a park access fee. Neither charging for access nor providing paved footpaths within a wild area are desirable, but they are practical solutions to a problem that won't go away, unlike the landscape we are seeking to protect.
Tim Osborne, Discovery Bay
On other matters ...
I read with a great deal of interest the article on February 19 that was entitled 'Only one in four orders for [building] repairs satisfied'.
This is a serious problem because the quality of a concrete repair can often affect building safety.
Sadly, many small contractors, with unskilled labour and no idea on the suitability of materials, are often employed to carry out repair work.
No form of guarantee is issued and, needless to say, the repairs fail quite soon after completion and building owners are left out of pocket and deeply frustrated.
To ensure a high standard of repair work, in 1986 four leading specialist concrete repair contractors founded the Hong Kong Concrete Repair Association, dedicated to raising the standards and awareness of all involved in the concrete repair business.
The association is an independent, non-profit organisation representing the concrete repair industry.
It now has about 40 company members and a further 20 associate members.
In order to become a member, a company must demonstrate a high standard of repair works, carried out by a trained workforce. Initially, after approval, a company is given a six-month probationary membership during which time the quality of its work is closely monitored.
If the performance is satisfactory, its membership is confirmed and it can use the association logo on its name cards and letterheads.
Its work is the subject of continuing monitoring; in the unlikely event of any unsatisfactory work, its membership is suspended.
Architects, engineers or building owners should therefore ensure that if any repair work is carried out by a contractor that they are members of the association in order to obtain a guaranteed, high-quality repair.
C. C. Stanley, Hong Kong Concrete Repair Association