Walk the talk, Hong Kong transport minister urges conference on city walkability

Anthony Cheung notes one problem is resistance to changing commuting habits

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 10:07pm
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 10:47pm

Hongkongers need to walk the talk if they want to turn the city into a more pedestrian-friendly place, transport minister Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said as he noted that many people were unwilling to change their commuting habits.

Speaking at the Walk21 Conference hosted by think tank Civic Exchange on the city’s walkability, Cheung said there were growing calls in society for a better walking environment in congested and fast-paces Hong Kong as more people now embrace walking and cycling as a lifestyle.

“Rising to the challenge of climate change and green mobility, we have to consider how to rediscover walking as a natural mode of mobility,” he told the audience.

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However, Cheung said it did not mean the whole community was “necessarily more supportive” of measures to contain growth in private cars or reduce the number of buses on the road.

“Some people are less ready to change their commuting habits and patterns,” he said.

There was not a shortage of cases where local communities opposed attempts to change the routing or frequency of the bus network or any transport proposals resulting in people having to walk an extra 10 or 15 minutes, the transport chief pointed out.

“While people are wary of road congestion, many are critical of any strong measures to reduce cars on the road, including road charging. We now face increasing calls for building more car parks across all 18 districts,” he said.

Cheung called for a paradigm shift in the community so there could be a trade-off in order to make Hong Kong a walkable city. “For many people, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. We need actionable change and even a paradigm shift on how our city life is to be organised.

“Are we willing to endure more congested trains and buses and to walk more so that we do not have to go for continuous expansion of the infrastructure? Tough questions and a tough trade-off indeed,” he said.

Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor also weighed in on the debate, saying new thinking was needed to break through existing constraints on private land, especially to make the city’s harbourfront highly accessible.

Waiving land premiums in exchange for private developers designing and building pedestrian links such as footbridges or underpasses would be one of the ways, she said.

For the harbourfront, the government proposed to build a 2km boardwalk under the Island Eastern Corridor. “Such a boardwalk, if built, will rise above existing constraints and improve public accessibility to this part of the harbourfront,” Lam said.

Meanwhile, the World Green Organisation launched a campaign on Monday to encourage Hongkongers to walk more for a healthier lifestyle.

About 30 participants including University of Hong Kong vice-chancellor Professor Peter Mathieson and Undersecretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan walked a short distance from Pottinger Street to Statue Square in Central.

A recent survey of about 400 people conducted by the organisation found that only a quarter of respondents walked at least half an hour a day for three days a week.