Obsession with fences a barrier to beauty, say hikers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 June, 2009, 12:00am

Hikers trying to find respite from the hustle and bustle of urban living say they are frustrated by the mass of iron railings lining the city's footpaths and concrete poured over former green areas.

Vivian Leung Tai Yuet-kam, chairwoman of the Lung Fu Shan Environmental Concern Group, a local organisation of hikers in Central and Western District, said that the growing number of railings built alongside roads and trails were not only an eyesore, but served no practical purpose other than to provide work to for contractors.

Mrs Leung showed the Sunday Morning Post a few examples of railings installed by the government in the Mid-Levels. In one example, an iron fence was put up in front of a solid stone barrier built to redirect floodwater on Old Peak Road.

Elsewhere, a tiny patch of grass on a safety island at the junction of Kotewall Road and Robinson Road was enclosed by heavy green iron railings.

Railings were also installed in a section of Robinson Road, not separating pedestrians from vehicular traffic, but keeping walkers off curbside shrubs and plants.

Many residents felt like they were being kept in a cage or herded like sheep, Mrs Leung said. 'You can find them everywhere. Tall and heavy-duty railings are used to fence off even a small sitting out area. It is just a small park. Are they worried that people would climb into the park?'

The group is campaigning against a recent proposal from the Transport Department to install railings along several sections of Old Peak Road.

A spokeswoman for the Transport Department said that railings were provided where 'the level difference between [a] footpath and the adjacent verge is greater than 1.5 metres, or there is a steep downhill slope at the back of the footway.'

In the case of the Old Peak Road railing in front of the wall, the spokeswoman said it was built in response to one pedestrian's safety complaint.

'Our proposal is to install railings only along those sections of road where there is a steep downhill slope adjacent to the footpath, which is in response to a complaint on pedestrian safety ... to address the concern on the environment, we suggested either painting the typical railings green or adopting a 'Victorian railing' design which has been specially developed for use in some areas of The Peak,' she said.

However, Mrs Leung questioned the need for such works as no accidents or casualties had been reported in the last 80 years. The group conducted a poll of 108 users of Old Peak Road, of whom 102 objected to the proposed installation of railings.

Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan said the government should protect the natural landscape. She said the party had written to the Central and Western District Office to object.

'We support those in the community who want to keep the uncluttered and open view of Old Peak Road,' the letter said, claiming that railings, together with fences, signs and poles, were potentially hazardous to road users and obstacles to pedestrians, and 'give our city one of the ugliest streetscapes in the world.'

But Central and Western District councillor Man Chi-wah said that pedestrian safety was paramount.

'The fact that there have been no casualties in the past does not mean it would not happen in future. If the district council decided against installing the railings and someone get hurts, then who can bear the responsibility?' he said.

But Ms Chan said whether the government would be liable in the event of an accident depended on the specific circumstance. Hill walkers should be aware of the risks and take precautions, she added.