Harbourfront road could have been pedestrian-friendly boulevard

Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's administration was inimical to good town planning, with his propensity for large-scale projects and almost complete insensitivity for neighbourhood and nostalgic sentiment.

He is gone, but unfortunately this mentality is built into the DNA of many government departments, nowhere more so than in the Transport and Highways departments.

This twin-headed hydra is entitled to devour our valuable land resources without any urban design oversight; they can simply "reserve" any land they think is needed for transport requirements.

Our new chief executive will not make any progress towards a new, more human-friendly town-planning mentality without chaining up this beast.

A case in point is the reclamation for the Central-Wan Chai bypass, an object of many campaigns over the last decade.

This reclamation, bitterly opposed, was justified by the need for "essential transport infrastructure".

The bypass is now going underground, but that has not stopped the Transport Department from reserving a generous swathe of this prime harbourfront real estate for a network of surface roads.

Designing Hong Kong urged the government to look at Lung Wo Road, which bisects the new waterfront, as a pleasant, tree-lined, pedestrian-friendly "ocean boulevard".

Instead, it was planned as a multi-lane primary distributor and built according to the usual design brief for such roads, with monolithic, concrete central divides that resemble fortifications.

After many discussions, activists won concessions to change its designation to a 50km/h road and to add ground- level pedestrian crossings.

This low speed allows for more attractive and pedestrian- friendly features including granite stone planters as a median.

Despite requests, government departments are reluctant to dismantle what is already there - the usual pig-headedness. What say you, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor?

When you made the keynote speech at our international design competition for the Central reclamation in 2007 (as development secretary), you expressed your sympathy for the need for more human-scale planning.

You have also assured us on several occasions that Lung Wo Road would not become the "thundering thoroughfare" it has become. What say you now? Can you bring this beast under control?

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Human-friendly town planning only possible by 'chaining up beast'