Town planners must put pedestrians first

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 August, 2014, 4:46am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 August, 2014, 6:39am

Vehicles rule the roads in Hong Kong. Those behind the wheel seem to think that pedestrians do not enjoy the same rights as them and do not hesitate to honk their horns at anyone standing in their way. This oddity is reinforced by policies and planning that are heavily tilted towards cars. The city is hardly pedestrian-friendly.

This apparent vehicle-first mentality was put under the spotlight again in a report in this newspaper. According to Missing Link - a group lobbying for safe roads - the city is lined with narrow pavements and truncated footpaths. Inadequate crossings in some areas also force impatient pedestrians to jaywalk. To minimise disruption to heavy traffic at some junctions, footbridges and subways have been installed to take people off the road. As many as 159 examples of so-called black spots were identified by the group last year. It remains unclear whether poor infrastructure planning has resulted in any traffic accidents. But with some 3,000 pedestrian-related injuries and deaths a year over the past five years, the question is a valid one.

Admittedly, better designs do not always help. There are those who will risk their lives for convenience sake and cross the road whenever and wherever they like. Limited space also makes planning and design more challenging. But they are not excuses to put people second to vehicles. Pedestrians have as much the same right as drivers to use our roads.

Critics argue that if we have a Transport Department and a Highways Department, why can't we have a pedestrian department? Whether we should bloat the bureaucracy to create a department specifically for pedestrian issues is debatable. But the outcome of our transport policies and facilities would have been different had officials in charge of roads dropped the vehicle-first mentality. The government should attach more importance to pedestrians' needs when building new towns. Development projects in Kai Tak and the northeast New Territories can give planners more room to manoeuvre.