Urban planning

Make Hong Kong’s streets pedestrian-friendly

The trial in Tsim Sha Tsui of street maps with directions to landmarks is a refreshing change in a district notorious for being difficult to navigate. But there is still a long way to go to make the city easier for pedestrians

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 August, 2018, 11:27pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 August, 2018, 11:27pm

Who would have thought a handful of new street signs in Tsim Sha Tsui could arouse so much public attention? The smart-looking London-style street maps, with directions to different landmarks and walking duration, are surely a refreshing change in a district notorious for being difficult to navigate even for locals. But we still have a long way to go when it comes to improving our pedestrian-unfriendly cityscape.

That the signs have attracted intense online discussion is unsurprising, not only because they cost taxpayers HK$3 million. The trial of the signs, up to three years, also seems unusually lengthy for what is essentially a simple and straightforward project. The involvement of transport experts from the city’s former sovereign power and the unoriginal design have further coloured the debate.

Is this London or Hong Kong? Familiar signs seen in Tsim Sha Tsui

The Transport Department aims to encourage more people to walk. Well intentioned as it is, the initiative does not change the fact that Hong Kong remains one of the world’s most unpleasant, if not difficult, cities to navigate on foot. Take Tsim Sha Tsui as an example. The neighbourhood is compact enough to walk from one end to another. But it involves walking through a labyrinth of subways, meaning lots of ups and downs for both the abled and disabled. The journey becomes even more challenging when taking into account the need to jostle for space along narrow pavements swarming with bus stops, extended shopfronts, overflowing garbage bins, dripping air conditioners, tourists with suitcases on wheels, and uncaring smokers puffing away.

It comes back to the city’s urban planning and transport policy. Our ever-growing vehicle numbers and the pursuit for seamless transport connections means pedestrian rights and needs are always an afterthought. That is why vehicles do not yield to people on the road. Even when there are traffic lights, they usually blink before you can finish crossing the street.

It does not take three years to tell whether the signs should be extended to other districts. But it certainly takes more than adding a few signboards to improve navigation. Having clear directions and guidance is one thing. Accessibility is another.