Does Hong Kong really need more cars in urban areas when congestion and air quality are already so bad?

Jenny Park says trams are part of the answer, not the problem, for HK to create a green urban environment that puts pedestrians before vehicles

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 August, 2015, 2:58pm
UPDATED : Monday, 24 August, 2015, 2:58pm

Former town planner Sit Kwok-keung is barking up the wrong tree with his proposal to remove trams between Central and Admiralty to alleviate traffic congestion. Trams are the victims here, not the culprits - even with their own lane, they are blocked by motor vehicles. Increasing vehicle capacity to reduce congestion goes against logic as more cars, vans and buses will utilise the route, leading to more accidents and pollution.

Unless we are trying to attain bragging rights for the most unlivable city, we need a new direction in urban planning. Considering around 90 per cent of us use public transport, is there really a need to accommodate more cars? Cities such as London and New York are creating more pedestrian precincts. So, why are we stuck in the past, favouring cars over people?

The schemes will divert traffic elsewhere and reduce air pollution, creating a golden opportunity to pedestrianise certain areas

Many speculate that Sit's proposal is merely a publicity stunt. Regardless, we need to address the elephant in the room - congestion and poor air quality in the central business district. Ten years ago, a proposal to pedestrianise Des Voeux Road Central was submitted to the Institute of Planners. It was revisited last year, with the idea of turning Des Voeux Road Central, Morrison Street and Pedder Street into a green tram- and pedestrian-only area.

Hong Kong is striving to reduce traffic in Central by expanding the MTR and building new bypasses. All these schemes will divert traffic elsewhere and reduce air pollution, creating a golden opportunity to pedestrianise certain areas.

The Occupy Movement last year was an informal trial of pedestrianisation. Only three days after the "occupation" of the roads, air quality had improved significantly.

Research by City University of Hong Kong on pollution levels at Queens Road Central, Des Voeux Road Central and Connaught Road Central found that the 4,000 to 8,000 pedestrians who use Des Voeux Road Central every hour are exposed to shockingly poor air quality. Although Des Voeux Road Central has relatively low vehicle flows, the high-rise buildings around it trap pollutants, contributing to the poor air quality.

A pedestrianised Des Voeux Road Central could become a new tourist attraction, something the Tourism Board says Hong Kong needs. Trams are an important part of our cultural heritage and identity; they are central to our city. We do not wish to see them go the same way as the Star Ferry Pier. Our urban development cannot continue to prioritise cars. Development must never come at the expense of citizens' health. As UK businessman Ivan Massow put it, no matter how rich a city is, one that chokes its own citizens is a poor one.

Jenny Park is campaign officer of Clean Air Network