SUSTAINABILITY
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Urban planning

Next Hong Kong chief executive should put pedestrians first, walkability advocates argue

Think tank issues report urging new mindset in government to consider accessibility and connectivity in city planning

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 December, 2016, 8:36am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 December, 2016, 8:33am

Walkability advocates and experts called on the next chief executive to change Hong Kong’s mindset and government structure by introducing measures that put pedestrians first.

The plea came as a study showed that public housing complex Choi Hung Estate in Kowloon was the city’s most walkable neighbourhood, while Kwun Tong ranked worst in the category out of four areas audited by the local think tank Civic Exchange.

On Wednesday, the group released a report on local walkability, including a list of factors such as accessibility and connectivity indicators that it argued could be used by the city.

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The study found that Choi Hung Estate – one of the city’s oldest public housing developments – was the city’s most walkable neighbourhood, receiving a “very good” grade when compared with three other locations.

Central ranked second, as it was deemed “well-connected and efficient, but not the most interesting place to walk due to lack of public real amenities and poor streetscapes”.

Mongkok was considered “too crowded for comfort and efficiency,” earning it a mark of “poor” for walkability. Kwun Tong was described as “not walkable”.

Right now no department in the government is responsible for walking
Maura Wong, Civic Exchange CEO

The locations were chosen based on their differences and interest in them, Civic Exchange CEO Maura Wong said.

“Right now no department in the government is responsible for walking,” she said. “Pedestrians are not really recognised as a legitimate interest group. That’s why we decided to come together and advocate for pedestrians’ rightful interests. Wouldn’t it be nice if the transport department considered walking a mode of transportation?”

A “walkability initiative” of 14 experts and aiming to advocate for pedestrians’ rights was also formally unveiled Wednesday.

Christopher Law, co-convenor and founding director of the Oval Partnership architectural firm, said the initiative was urgently needed, especially to change “the mindset of professionals and policymakers”.

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“I think for almost 50 years we have had a mindset of a car based or a motor vehicle-based city,” he said. “That gives far too much priority to vehicles.”

He called on the government to introduce a policy framework that implements walkability in the city.

Asked to state a priority for the next chief executive, due to be elected in March, Wong said a change in thinking on the issue was foremost. “Infrastructure is one hurdle, departmental jurisdiction is another ... there are so many things that are obstacles and all because the mindset is outdated,” she said.

In October, Civic Exchange organised what it claimed was Asia’s first ever conference on walking and integrated mobility to promote the world’s most environmentally friendly ways to get around.

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At the time, transport minister Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said many people were unwilling to change their commuting habits, thus hindering the city from becoming more pedestrian-friendly.

Law said the three main factors to engender a walkable city were convenience, a comfortable experience and a socially rewarding daily routine. “We must provide a comfortable walking environment ... and offices could provide shower and changing rooms” to motivate people, he added.

A poll of about 400 people conducted by the World Green Organisation and released in September showed that only a quarter of respondents walked at least 30 minutes a day three days a week.