• Mon
  • Sep 1, 2014
  • Updated: 10:18am
PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 April, 2014, 9:06pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 April, 2014, 2:18am

Don’t let Hong Kong remain the ‘worst city for cyclists’

Peter Kammerer says a government that refuses to see the myriad benefits of using bikes to commute is doing a disservice to its people

BIO

Peter Kammerer is a long-time columnist and commentator for the SCMP. He has received recognition for his writing at the Hong Kong news Awards, the annual Human Rights Press Awards and from the Society of Publishing in Asia. Before moving to Hong Kong in 1988, he worked on newspapers in his native Australia.  
 

There's a simple way of seeing how interested a government is in serving its people. Get a bike and try to ride it along a busy street. If the ride is hair-raising, even dangerous, it's clear that health, well-being and the environment are being put second to the economy. I'll even go a step further and say that this is a way of determining how forward-thinking those in charge of a city are.

With these parameters in mind, let's turn to a blog posting by musician and mad-keen cyclist, David Byrne. The former frontman for the band Talking Heads travels the world with a folding bicycle and uses it to get a feel for his surroundings. During a visit to our city in 2009, he wrote: "I would like to congratulate Hong Kong for being the worst city for cyclists that I have encountered in the whole world. That's saying a lot. Worse than Napoli. Worse than Istanbul. Worse than Manila." Although that was written five years ago, I'm assured by local cyclists that nothing has changed; you're taking your life into your hands if you venture off the purpose-built recreational cycling paths around Sha Tin and Tai Po.

I would like to congratulate Hong Kong for being the worst city for cyclists that I have encountered in the whole world. That's saying a lot. Worse than Napoli. Worse than Istanbul. Worse than Manila
David Byrne, musician and keen cyclist

The government has a stated policy that cycles are mostly for leisure activities. They are viewed as inappropriate for use in urban areas as a way of getting to work or school. This is despite the global trend of embracing them for being zero-polluting, an inexpensive way to commute and helping improve a community's fitness and health. With climate change and obesity being worldwide threats, governments from Mexico City and Sydney to Taipei and Paris are investing in urban bike lanes and encouraging or funding bike-sharing and rental schemes.

Not in Hong Kong, though. The idea that anyone would want to use a bike for anything other than sport or fun is shot down by authorities with a barrage of excuses; safety concerns, narrow roads and an unfavourable climate are most cited. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying laid out the government's thinking in a brief mention in his last policy address, saying that authorities would work towards a bicycle-friendly environment in new towns and development areas of the New Territories.

Yet it is in our city's urban core on the north side of Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon where bikes would be most beneficial. A rental scheme and places to lock up bikes would help reduce air pollution and improve community fitness. What better way to start the day than to cycle smugly past rows of drivers fuming in traffic jams?

But while there are no laws blocking a cycling culture and more than 100 associations represent interests, the government has yet to adopt a positive mentality. A bicycle corridor along the harbourfront from Sheung Wan to North Point has long been talked about, but remains far from reality. The rising number of licensed private vehicles in Hong Kong proves where the government's heart really lies. Nor are public transport companies as user-friendly as might be expected: the MTR considers bicycles to be bulky items and requires that they be either folded or have their wheels removed.

Cycling is not for everyone. But the benefits bikes bring should not be restricted by blinkered government thinking. They should be considered as much a part of public transport as buses, trains and trams.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post

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This article is now closed to comments

martinturner
Thank you Peter for eloquently saying what so many people think.
14u2nv
you're insane if you ride a bike on hong kong roads.... I wish that wasn't the case but it's true.
the level of driving here is just dire and inconsiderate....
534cd458-4e08-4419-b1d7-35070a320969
No, actually, its not true. The key difference between riding a bicycle in this city is the distinct lack of aggression shown by drivers. There is the occasional exception and there are close calls and accidents due to driver, pedestrian and cyclist inattention. Pedestrians are a far greater menace to cyclists than vehicles. The apparent inability to walk in a straight line and the complete absence of spatial awareness contribute to the belief that all vehicles will somehow not collide with them when stepping blindly into the street.
The roads are narrow and congested but in the majority everyone mostly just gets along.
I commute and ride for sport every day of the week and can count on one hand the number of times drivers have behaved aggressively towards me. I would need many more hands if I were still living in Australia.
skywalker
It is not only the government who is to blame. Also the very common car, van, lorry, mini-bus, bus, taxi driving society of Hongkongers is to be blamed very much! I am a cyclist myself and do a lot of biking in the new territories. Whenever I have to drive along roads like the Castle Peak Road I am in fear of my life, because the common motorist is not paying attention for cyclists at all. BTW, pedestrians are in the same position. Motorists in Hong Kong are rather honking at them than slowing down. The whole motorised city of Hong Kong behaves as if they do not need to pay attention to anyone on the road and the road entirely belongs to them!
This is not a government issue alone, it is the mentality and the attitude of the Hongkongers behind the steering wheel what needs to change first. And that does not require laws and government action. Everyone can decide for himself every day to pay attention to the weaker person on the road. But it seems Hongkongers cannot do so. That's pathetic!
philpaul
Cyclists are a serious hazard in Amsterdam. Imagine old ladies unused to avoiding cyclists and used to walking slow being run down by a horde of arrogant cyclists, then you can start preaching about cycling.
hectortse
I'd rather hit by a bicycle than a car.
Mandmf
In Amsterdam, over 60% of inner city trips are made by bicycle and 38% in wider Amsterdam.... Those numbers are fantastic, they demonstrate a culture which respects cyclists and the environmental, traffic and health impact is equally brilliant. I would prefer to jump on a bike from Central to sheung wan, or wanchai than sit in a traffic jam, spewing out pollution from the taxi or fighting with rude people to get into an overcrowded train...
 
 
 
 
 

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