Pedestrian-friendly planning solves more than traffic woes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 July, 2008, 12:00am

The next phase of railway projects in Hong Kong will improve our mass transport system and ease traffic congestion and air pollution, but only if motor vehicles are controlled. The motorist is favoured over endangered pedestrians and extinct cyclists.

While the system of aerial walkways and footbridges in Central is convenient, it cannot be built everywhere. At street level, footpaths are narrow and increasingly congested. Pedestrians must wait interminably for traffic lights to change to cross safely. Drivers rarely respect pedestrians where zebra crossings are not protected by traffic lights. In some countries, drivers who do not stop at pedestrian crossings are penalised. The mutual courtesy and social harmony that results from such laws is obvious to visitors.

It is dangerous for cyclists to ride on Hong Kong roads. Traffic is dense, drivers are tense, aggressive and distracted. In urban areas there are few dedicated cycle, bus and taxi lanes, nor cycle paths. Air pollution further discourages potential cyclists from attempting such a risky ride.

Many health problems could be reduced by making it easier to walk in our streets and for bicycles to be used as a regular means of local transport rather than a weekend activity exiled to country parks or villages.

European cities encouraged pedestrians and cyclists decades ago. Copenhagen created pedestrian streets. Paris has its public bicycle hire service. People are thus encouraged to use public transport rather than private cars. Citizens in Holland, Germany and Belgium often use bicycles for local transport. Mainlanders once rode bicycles, too, until they became obsessed with the car.

We should favour rail transport and introduce road pricing right now to keep non-essential road traffic out of the city centre, and build a rail link to the container port from the mainland. We need a flexible, city-wide road traffic management system, more pedestrian streets, green spaces and bicycle lanes, to encourage citizens to walk or ride bikes.

Unfortunately, our decision-makers prefer cars and schemes like the Central-Wan Chai bypass, with its regrettable harbour reclamation.

D. Brett, Central