Hong Kong's streets will soon be less colourful, but likely safer following the government's decision to remove all public notice banners from the middle of the city's roads.
The decision received mixed reaction from people, with some saying it hampered freedom of speech, while others applauded the attempt to allow drivers to see more around them and so hopefully reduce the number of accidents on the roads.
'Road safety is a life and death issue. There should be no concessions to that,' said Dr Hung Wing-tat, a member of the Road Safety Council's research committee.
'At road intersections, these signs can block the view of drivers about to make turns, while in other places accidents can happen if loose banners are pulled down by vehicles.'
Ching Kam-cheong, deputy head of the Transport Department, said 3,077 accidents occurred last year because drivers' attention was diverted, claiming 37 lives and causing 393 people to be seriously injured. However, he could not provide statistics on how many of these accidents were related to banners.
The city has 2,816 banners on central road railings hung by political parties, legislators, district councillors, government departments and non-profit organisations. All the signs will be pulled down by the middle of next month under a plan laid out by the Development Bureau, which followed findings from a 2008 Ombudsman's report warning of the dangers posed by loose banners.
At present, there are 22,451 designated spots across the city where it is permitted to erect public notices or hang banners. All material from these spots must be removed by midAugust, before the district council elections and the Election Committee election.
From then on, it will not be permitted to replace the banners that were on central railings. The owners of the 2,816 affected banners will be offered alternative spots, while other banners, not on central railings, can return to their original locations.
At a Legislative Council development panel meeting yesterday, lawmakers voiced reservations over the plan, saying it deprived public office bearers' of public platforms.
'I am afraid the government is using road safety as an excuse to restrict speech,' said Democrat Kam Nai-wai. 'All the banners along the roads stand a risk of becoming loose, whether they are hung in the centre or on the side of the road. Is there any data on past safety problems caused by these banners?'
Ip Kwok-him, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, raised the same doubt. 'There is now less space for legislators and district councillors to communicate their messages to residents. Do these banners really pose such a threat to road safety?'
Development Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor dismissed the claim there was anything political behind the plan. 'We are not trying to restrain expression,' she said. 'There are absolutely no political motives here. The plan applies to all cases and everyone has to comply.'