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Traffic and road safety in Hong Kong

Pedestrians need more time to cross Hong Kong roads

Although an experiment involving the elderly and disabled is welcome, if an extra few seconds causes mayhem for drivers, there are probably too many vehicles on the road

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 February, 2018, 1:29am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 February, 2018, 1:28am

Except in sports competitions or some unusual circumstances, gaining a few more seconds does not matter to most people. But it does make a big difference when it comes to crossing Hong Kong’s busy streets. Some politicians even claim credit in pushing the government to prolong lights at pedestrian crossings by a few seconds.

Laughable as it sounds, it speaks volumes of the city’s unfriendly policy towards pedestrians. Visitors unfamiliar with the traffic norms are usually shocked to learn that vehicles do not yield to pedestrians here. Our pursuit for better transport connections and an ever-growing vehicle population means pedestrians’ needs are always an afterthought. Even when there is a changing mindset among town planners, Hong Kong remains primarily a vehicle-first city.

Smart device gives elderly and disabled more time to cross Hong Kong’s busy streets

In a welcoming move, the Transport Department has rolled out a trial scheme in North Point that lengthens the time the elderly and disabled are given to cross at lights. By tapping their special Octopus cards on a device at the crossing, they can prolong the blinking green light from the usual 12 to 16 seconds.

Whether an extra four seconds is enough it is difficult to say, but officials appear content with their scientific data. According to the department, the extension is meant to give an elderly person – with an average walking speed of 0.9 metres per second – enough extra time to cross one traffic lane. The truth is that the duration of lights at most pedestrian crossings is generally so short that even others find it challenging.

People-first transport system eludes Hong Kong even as other cities race ahead

Regrettably, officials are apparently more concerned with traffic congestion rather than the rights of pedestrians. We need more data to ascertain whether the 15 per cent surge in casualties among elderly pedestrians over the past decade has anything to do with current transport design and logistics. But there may well be a need to allow more time to cross at traffic lights as the elderly population expands.

If an extra few seconds causes mayhem for drivers, the problem is probably that there are too many vehicles on the road. Until the mindset of putting vehicles first changes, Hong Kong can never be a pedestrian-friendly city.