Narrow paths, illegal bicycle parking among factors affecting pavement access in some Hong Kong districts

A survey by the Post found areas like Yuen Long, Sheung Shui and Repulse Bay have flawed or outdated pedestrian designs

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 October, 2016, 7:34pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 October, 2016, 9:29pm

During his waits for the light rail, Yuen Long resident Richard Wood runs the risk of getting knocked off the platform and onto the tracks on Tai Tong Road, one of the busiest roads in the border district.

The train stop, which sits in the middle of a pedestrian crossing, is also sandwiched between two intersecting roads and a rail track.

With train passengers and pedestrians fighting for space, Wood had a valid reason to fear for his life. “People are just brushing past and banging you out of their way,” the 33-year-old English teacher said.

A Post survey found that Yuen Long is one of several districts, which include Sheung Shui and Repulse Bay, with flawed or outdated pedestrian designs.

In Yuen Long, roads built decades ago have not been upgraded or expanded in tandem with sharp population growth. Pavements are currently too narrow to accommodate the huge flow of people. The MTR light rail, which started operations in the late 1980s, has complicated the issue further.

Siu Long-ming, a Yuen Long district council member, said he was aware of how unsafe the pedestrian crossing at the Tai Tong Road stop was. But he said the problem was tricky because of the many stakeholders involved.

Reinvigorate Hong Kong with more pedestrian-only zones

“The pedestrian crossing appears to be particularly crowded because a store on the pavement extends quite a few feet,” Siu said, referring to beauty shop Bonjour, whose storefront cuts into the pavement.

“They justified it by saying it is private land,” he said. “We can’t make them give up [that space] if they don’t want to.”

In a bid to ease the congestion, Siu said the district council has also considered broadening the pavement but that plan later turned into a tug-of-war between the government and the MTR which wants to broaden its platforms.

The population of Yuen Long has jumped more than 2.5 times since 1991 to about 579,000 in 2011, the latest available figure.

Besides heavy pedestrian traffic,other factors also hinder pavement access. Outside Sheung Shui MTR station, hundreds, if not thousands, of bikes have obstructed the paths for years.

Even though bicycle lots, sited near the station, are available, demand outstrips supply. So Sai-chi, a district council member, said the number of bicycles in the area has grown exponentially over the past 30 years, far exceeding the parking capacity for bikes.

“People ride bikes to the station ... and just chain them on the pavements,” So said. He said it is difficult for the government to seize the bikes because of loopholes in the related regulations.

The Post has also seen other pavements in the city with fundamental design flaws that could put the life of tourists in danger.

In Repulse Bay, tourists disembark from buses onto a one-way road at the front entrance of The Pulse, a beachside complex, only to find themselves standing in the middle of the road, with traffic zooming past mere inches away.

A tour bus driver, who wants to be known only as Mr Ng, said: “Land in Hong Kong is so scarce that this problem is actually quite common.”

The Transport Department said it has been working closely with relevant departments and bureaus in addressing road planning issues present in these old districts and new towns.

Quentin Cheng Hin-kei, spokesman for the Public Transport Research Team, said the government should adopt a holistic approach and new thinking for urban planning. “The government can consider shifting some of the essential economic, political and administrative activities to other districts so as to reduce people’s needs for transport and relieve overcrowding,” he said.