Decentralise Hong Kong’s business districts to ease traffic congestion
Ken Chu says focusing efforts on curbing private car numbers may not be effective. A better solution is to set up more urban core areas, such as by building the East Lantau Metropolis
Privately owned vehicles are often blamed for chronic traffic congestion, especially in the prime business and retail centres. To curb the growth of private car numbers, some people have called for the introduction of electronic road pricing in Hong Kong’s busiest areas, but opponents argue that it would unfairly penalise the poor while favouring the affluent.
While it is thought that better and more convenient public transport services should encourage people to ditch their cars for the train, bus or taxi, we should acknowledge that each public transport mode has its own limitations. For example, we cannot expect our MTR system to extend to every corner of the city.
Also, there is always a risk that better road-based public transport services may encourage more people to use them and, as a result, will lead to more traffic, contributing to congestion.
Moreover, there will always be people who choose to drive their own vehicles for reasons such as lifestyle preference or a negative perception of the public system, even though they know the roads are constantly gridlocked and that it is faster and more convenient to ride the MTR.
Private car users also say it is unfair to single them out for blame for the congested roads because there are other types of vehicles sharing the road.
In fact, some people argue that commercial goods vans loading and unloading goods, daytime roadworks, illegally parked vehicles and so forth are the real culprits for the jams in Hong Kong’s urban areas.
They also claim that the lack of car parks in the busy business centres and retail districts forces car drivers to cruise around in search of curbside parking spaces, thereby contributing to slower traffic. It is thus understandable that the closure of the Murray Road public car park gave rise to worries about its impact on the traffic in Central during peak hours.
Traffic congestion is common in major metropolises throughout the world. Hong Kong is no exception.
But if we look deeper into the problem, traffic jams in Hong Kong are mainly restricted to roads leading to the entrances of the cross-harbour tunnels on both sides of the harbour and a few main roads in the business and popular retail districts during peak hours.
It is normal to see cars move at a snail’s pace on Gloucester Road or intermittently stop on Queen’s Road Central.
As a matter of fact, the causes of congestion in major cities are complex, and vary from city to city. To name but a few, urban design, road width, the level of commercial activities within the concerned area, fuel costs and the availability of parking spaces are some of the factors.
Realistically, it is impossible to stop people completely using private vehicles. Perhaps it is time for the government to be far-sighted and creative in tackling the problem.
In land-scarce Hong Kong, it may be difficult to increase road capacity in core urban districts. We ought to consider spreading out our central business districts, which currently converge on both sides of Victoria Harbour, particularly in Central district and Tsim Sha Tsui.
Therefore, the proposed East Lantau Metropolis, on land to be reclaimed from the waters between Lantau Island and Hong Kong Island, where a new business district is envisaged, should be welcomed.
In addition, we should seriously consider building another cross-harbour tunnel, as the three current ones are terminally congested during busy hours, with a severe spillover impact on the traffic in the neighbourhoods.
To some, congestion is more a mobility problem than an issue of curbing the number of privately owned cars. Cars in motion are like blood circulating in the arteries. If somewhere within the road system is clogged, we will experience congestion. Therefore, as long as we can keep vehicles circulating within the road system, there will be no clogged areas.
Dr Ken Chu is group chairman and CEO of the Mission Hills Group and a National Committee member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference