Bridge, cable car over Hong Kong harbour for cyclists, pedestrians proposed to open up city

Urban design firm based in city says 23km HarbourLoop would promote ‘a healthy and active means of moving around’, but a cyclist cautions more would need doing before people could bike to work

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 December, 2015, 6:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 28 December, 2015, 5:11pm

There’s nothing like images of smog-shrouded cities such as Beijing and New Delhi to get people thinking about their own environment and the impact pollution has on one’s health and quality of life.

With this in mind, a proposal by local design firm Lead 8 to transform the city’s waterfront into a 23km urban cycling, running and walking network seems more relevant than ever.

Coined HarbourLoop, the network that promotes zero-emission modes of transport and connects Hong Kong to Kowloon in a continuous loop. For the western harbour crossing, a cable car transports users from Central to a new deck overlooking the West Kowloon Cultural District in a 1.5km journey more than 60 metres above the harbour.

Cities where you can walk, run or cycle, rather than drive, are more appealing places in which to live and work
Chris Lohan, director and co-founder, Lead 8

The eastern end of Victoria Harbour is crossed by a bridge with a span of 500 metres, linking the Museum of Coastal Defence and the Shau Kei Wan waterfront with the village of Lei Yue Mun, traversing from hill to hill and creating a new gateway to Hong Kong.

The proposal was submitted this month to the Harbourfront Commission, which advises the Government on all harbourfront matters.

“There’s an urgent need to invest in more people-focused networks to complement and connect Hong Kong and promote a healthy and active means of moving around,” says Simon Blore, director and co-founder of Lead 8.

Blore says it seems a waste to see the waterfront so underused in what is one of the world’s most densely populated cities, with a density of about 6,300 people per square kilometre.

Lead 8 says as well as the potential to become an attraction for tourists, the HarbourLoop would be within 10 minutes’ walk of the homes of over 1.7 million of the city’s residents.

“We want to turn a fragmented harbourfront into a real and accessible asset,” he said.

Hong Kong is the one of the best places in the world for people to travel around, according to an Urban Mobility Index report last year, but lags in cycle and walking paths (Hong Kong has just 187km of cycling paths for every 1,000 square kilometres of land, compared to 4,041 in Stockholm, 3,502 in Amsterdam and more than 280 in Singapore.)

Government figures show roadside levels of nitrogen dioxide have increased by a quarter since 2006 – one of the factors behind the city’s fall from 17th place on business consultancy ECA International’s Global Liveability Index in 2014 to 33rd on its 2015 index.

Blore says the HarbourLoop proposal aims to not only support zero- emission modes of transport, but make life in Hong Kong more comfortable, increase accessibility and make it easier to be healthy and active.

“Building on our experience of creating vibrant transit-oriented developments worldwide, we wanted to put some of our award-winning thinking into our home city, by developing the HarbourLoop, which can be used by everyone and will ultimately make Hong Kong a more liveable place.”

He says the plan also offers development opportunities for businesses, particularly where the route intersects with offices and existing residential and leisure districts.

Chris Lohan, director and co-founder of Lead 8 said: “Cities where you can walk, run or cycle, rather than drive, are more appealing places in which to live and work.”

A keen cyclist, Lohan says he gets up early most days to cycle before work, rather than to work. “This is the fundamental difference between Hong Kong and other cities.”

“To improve the quality of life for all and encourage a new generation of healthy, active residents, we have to make it safe and accessible. Urban density provides us with an opportunity; HarbourLoop is a lateral approach to finding space in a congested city.”

Cyclist Dino Chan, who works at Green Urban Mobility, a local company that sells collapsible bicycles, cycles at least twice a week, sometimes to work.

“Unlike the New Territories [with bike lanes], there are limited options in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island for such leisure activities … many urban cyclists find it difficult to travel across the harbour and ride around the city, as there are various restrictions to discourage them from bike commuting.”

Cyclist Damian Barrett says while the plan would be a welcome addition to the transport options in the city, extra thought into areas such as bike parking spaces and shower facilities in offices must be considered.

“I’ve lived in heavy commuting cities such as London and Singapore and Hong Kong would need an additional investment in bike parking space and shower facilities in offices before it becomes a realistic alternative to cars and public transport.”

It’s not the first time a plan for a cycle path has been put forward. The Harbourfront Cycleway group has been lobbying for a cycleway on Hong Kong Island for almost 10 years.

Most cities in the world already have or are developing access for cyclists (London is building a 24km “cycling superhighway” while New York is enjoying record levels of commuter cycling thanks to its bicycle-sharing scheme, whereby riders can pick up a machine at one station and drop it at another.) In Copenhagen, 50 per cent of all citizens commute by bike every day and there are more bikes than inhabitants. In Shanghai, the most populous city in China, 60 per cent of cyclists pedal to work every day. The city is home to 9.4 million bicycles and 19 million people.

Chan says: “This visionary project would definitely benefit everyone who anticipates a city that is sustainable and bike-friendly without spoiling the charm of our iconic Victoria Harbour.”