Old Peak Road handrails will be act of bureaucratic vandalism

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 January, 2011, 12:00am

One of the astonishing amenities of Hong Kong is the access to natural park settings from almost literally the back door of dense urban environments. This is certainly the case for the lucky residents of Mid-Levels, from the heart of Central all the way around to Pok Fu Lam.

In a matter of minutes, you can stroll from the narrow congested streets of Sai Ying Pun, for example, to the tropical green expanse of Lung Fu Shan Country Park; it is a liberating transformation.

From the unrelenting campaign to construct railings on Hatton Road and Old Peak Road, I conclude that the government bureaucracies, like the Transport Department or the politically more attuned arms like the district councils, fail to understand this amenity.

For a walk in nature, a handrail is a blight. And in the case of Hatton Road and Old Peak Road, where the pavement is broad and bordered with a kerb, handrails constitute an utterly wasteful expenditure of public funds. Although the departments justify this work under the imperatives of public safety, there is no evidence any threat exists. Neither the Transport Department nor the district council have been able to provide any evidence of injury whatsoever when pressed.

It is the height of public hypocrisy to assert - as representatives of the Transport Department and a cross-section of district councillors have done in public - that there must be a zero-incidence policy with regard to the health and safety of local residents on these paths.

This is a useless standard. It is just as likely, for example, that the addition of handrails might create an attractive venue for skateboarders to practise tricks, and should they injure themselves, then what?

Private cars are tolerated for their contribution to individual convenience and efficiency, yet they pose an undeniable danger to their owners as well as the public at large. If there was truly a public consensus that any risk of injury on our country paths was unacceptable, then the only logical course of action would be to close them altogether. Fortunately, most thinking people apply some reasonable cost-benefit standard which tells you, in particular, that if serious injury has never been an issue on these public paths of Hatton Road or Old Peak Road, then no remedial action is required.

If the departments or district councillors were sincere in their stated concern for the health and welfare of their constituencies they would earn our eternal gratitude if only by words or deeds they directed that concern to the seemingly intractable problems of air quality in Hong Kong.

Here is a real and ever-present long-term threat to the physical health of all residents of Hong Kong. More than the rise of Shanghai, it will become a threat to the financial health of Hong Kong.

In short, it is time for some big thinking. Do not let trivial matters, like Hatton Road, where no danger lurks, distract us from the challenges which confront us.

William G. Swigart, Pok Fu Lam