Put pedestrians first when road planning, group urges
Officials are forcing people into the path of traffic by ignoring needs of the majority to focus on the 7.5 per cent who own a car, say campaigners
Lam Kam Road winds for nearly 6km between the picturesque Lam Tsuen Country Park and Tai Mo Shan Country Park in the northwest New Territories, with villages dotted along both sides.
It's a tree-shaded road that passes near the celebrated Lam Tsuen wishing trees, near the Tin Hau Temple in Fong Ma Po village.
But little provision is made for pedestrians and there is not even a crossing near the shrine, residents say, despite the two banyans drawing huge crowds seeking good luck, especially during the Lunar New Year.
In the worst traffic accident to occur there recently, a 13-year-old boy spent more than a month in hospital after he was hit by an SUV while crossing the road near his home.
People in the neighbourhood have been complaining about the danger for years. But it is only one of many pedestrian black spots in Hong Kong - a city where over 3,000 pedestrians have been killed or injured in accidents every year for the past five years.
Campaigners lobbying for safer roads collected 159 examples last year of footpaths that are too narrow or are missing altogether, and inadequate crossings. The black spots often force pedestrians onto the roads, where they are at risk of being hit by traffic.
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"I call this a car-oriented mindset in the government's urban planning," says Vincent Ng Wing-shun, vice-president of the Hong Kong Institute of Urban Design think tank.
"The Transport Department only considers itself a department for cars and we don't have a pedestrian department," Ng explains.
"This old mindset of handing the streets to cars and planning the city for cars has not changed even today."
The boy who was hit on Lam Kam Road in January underwent two operations, was in hospital for more than four weeks and spent months on crutches, according to Dan van Hoy who lives in the same village.
He says there are only a few crossings, all without traffic lights, on the road, and all of them are near the larger villages.
Most drivers continue at speed past the signs cautioning them to slow down or to mind the children. Furthermore, the tall paperbark trees that line the road obstruct the views of both drivers and pedestrians.
In Wan Chai, the Spring Garden Lane footpath is so narrow that two people cannot walk side by side on some parts. Every day, a large number of people are forced to walk on the road as trucks and cars drive past.
In Kwun Tong, many people tend to cross the busy Hong Ning Road illegally because the pedestrian crossing they have to otherwise navigate takes them on a convoluted route over three road crossings - all with traffic lights, which often means lengthy waiting times.
In an experiment, it took the South China Morning Post more than three minutes to cross the road in either direction using the official crossings. This compared with just 10 seconds when we jaywalked.
Similarly, many people ignore the footbridge outside the Fitfort mall above King's Road in North Point and instead choose to cross the road illegally, but quickly.
Eastern District councillor Cheng Chi-sing says the council and the government have decided to install elevators on the footbridge to make it more convenient for pedestrians. He describes the illegal crossing as a people problem.
"There are always some people who won't climb a few steps and want to cross faster," he says.
Ng argues that the city would lose its character and vibrancy if people are all forced up on to the footbridges, into shopping malls or down into pedestrian tunnels to make way for the cars.
He says if the government adopted a pedestrian-oriented planning strategy, it would reduce reliance on cars. In a city as compact as Hong Kong, using public transport and walking as much as possible is a more efficient way of using land, because a person occupies far less space than a car, he says.
Government statistics show that in May there were around 527,000 registered private cars, equivalent to only about 7.5 per cent of the population. Many car owners own more than one vehicle, which makes the pool of drivers even smaller.
Southern District councilor Paul Zimmerman, who started the Missing Links campaign, which collects information from frustrated pedestrians, says government officials do not have any means to quantify the inconvenience to pedestrians. But they can calculate losses caused by traffic jams so the focus was on maintaining traffic flow at the cost of walkers, he says.
Van Hoy, a frequent hiker, says half-jokingly: "In my more cynical moments, I think the people who make the laws mostly drive cars and don't walk very much.
"I think most politicians are hard-working, good people and I respect them. But in Hong Kong where most people don't have a car, we need to do what's best for the majority and the majority are pedestrians."