Footbridges are fine, but give us back our street-level crossings

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 December, 2007, 12:00am

I refer to the Director of Audit's report ('Millions spent to build subways and bridges to nowhere', November 29).

The Transport Department's Planning and Design Manual stipulates that wherever possible, grade separated crossings (for example, subways and footbridges) should be constructed. This goes entirely against the findings of the Census and Statistics Department in 2003 that people prefer grade (that is, street-level) crossings.

Based on this guideline the Transport Department should 'wherever possible construct pedestrian crossings at grade'.

However, the department's vision for Hong Kong seems to be a 'city in the sky' whereby the entire ground level is dedicated to vehicles and people live and work on a podium level and transit via walkways. This attitude towards pedestrians is the reason almost all zebra crossings have been replaced with 'look left, look right' signs painted on the road surface, warning you that you cross the road at your own risk.

Rather than recommending the department revises its manual, the audit report recommends that it encourages more pedestrians to use footbridges with low utilisation. Does this mean more fences and obstacles to force those unruly pedestrians down subways and up footbridges?

Footbridges and subways can be excellent as additional capacity for commuters between transport and home or work, but they should not replace what people want: a high quality and vibrant street-level environment with the freedom to wander. And yes, that will reduce the vehicular capacity of roads - which is what people want.

In the Netherlands and Britain, a radical new approach is taking hold. It is called 'shared space'. It shows you have fewer accidents when you remove all traffic separation measures, fences and signalling, as you force vehicles and people to share the space.

By removing this false sense of protection, both drivers and pedestrians learn to be more aware of each other. But one step at a time, let's first get our street-level crossings back.

Paul Zimmerman, founder, Designing Hong Kong Harbour District