One second more: Hong Kong district councillor draws sneers and applause over traffic light move

Transport Department agrees to move to allow green man light to operate for one second longer to allow people to cross busy Shau Kei Wan junction

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 March, 2017, 4:21pm
UPDATED : Monday, 06 March, 2017, 12:16pm

Can one second make a difference in a city well known for racing against time? It did for one district councillor who succeeded in securing a one-second increase in the time allowed for pedestrians to cross a busy road junction in Shau Kei Wan.

Independent Eastern district councillor George Lam Kei-tung fought back sneers by cynics who accused him of making a frivolous request for political gain, insisting the move eased woes for pedestrians, in particular the elderly and the physically impaired.

Traffic light confusion for Chinese motorists after city raises Lunar New Year red lanterns

“I admit that the one-second request was deliberately made sensational and eye-catching. But my intention was just to raise public and government attention about the pedestrian-crossing problems at that busy spot,” he told the Post, adding that he might ask for a half-second increase next time.

“What I did was not for claiming political credit. I never showed off my achievements on any banners. I just want – as a district councillor – to make more people aware of the problem,” he said.

The contentious crossing point is at the junction of Tung Hei Road and Mong Lung Street in the heart of Shau Kei Wan.

On 18 January, Lam made a written request at Eastern District Council for the Transport Department to give people – and in particular the elderly – one more second to cross the road.

In a reply to the council two weeks ago, the department said it normally took a person five seconds to cross the road there. It said the green man traffic light operated for 12 to 13 seconds each time, which should be enough for people, including the elderly, to reach the other side.

“We have sent our staff to examine the traffic lights and the traffic light duration at that location,” the department said.

“Given the district councillor’s views and considering the actual traffic circumstances there, on 26 January this year the department has extended the green traffic light time, including the flashing time, to 14 seconds to make it easier for pedestrians to cross,” it said.

The department has extended the green traffic light time, including the flashing time, to 14 seconds to make it easier for pedestrians to cross
Transport Department

Lam’s action was scorned by internet users and other critics, who called it frivolous and attention-seeking. But he insisted it was a justifiable move as many residents complained to him that they had difficulties crossing the road as many people waited there.

The time for the green traffic light had already been lengthened from 10 seconds to more than 12 seconds at the end of 2015 – also at Lam’s request.

“I made this one-second request again because the pedestrian traffic there was still busy. For the elderly who walk very slowly and wait at the back, they don’t have enough time to cross the road,” he said, adding that things had improved after the one-second increase.

But Quentin Cheng Hin-kei, spokesman for the Public Transport Research Team, said his group was concerned about whether the one-second increase could really resolve traffic problems in the area, because it might have a domino effect on vehicular traffic flow on nearby roads, causing congestion.

“I think the wording of Lam’s proposition was really silly. Why didn’t he ask the Transport Department to study ways to ease crossing problems for the elderly? Why did he think one second was enough to solve the problem there?

“It may adversely affect the flow of vehicles on nearby roads. How can the Transport Department conclude that a one-second increase is OK but not two seconds? Will there be any other solutions such as improving the connectivity of nearby roads?” he asked.

A Transport Department spokesman told the Post a significant number of pedestrians used the crossing and they thought it was reasonable to lengthen the time for the green man light without “carrying out further data collection and analysis”.

“Such an increase will not have a significant impact on traffic but will allow more pedestrians to cross with a shorter average waiting time. We will monitor the traffic situation there to see if further modifications are needed,” he said.