In a rather interesting speech, from an urban mobility point of view, the Secretary for Transport & Housing, Prof Anthony Cheung, has described Hong Kong’s transport policy as “Public Transportation Plus”, which he explains as “public transport complemented by walkability and cycling-friendly measures”. He was talking to an international conference on walking and liveable communities but even so, is this a change? a real thing?
Prof Cheung begins by wondering “whether we have become too dependent on mechanised transport to the extent of creating all kinds of social problems, including human interface, perhaps. And there are problems associated with road congestion and carbon emissions.”
So he’s identified the problem. Not a bad start for the guy supposedly in charge of our transport policy.
After presenting the Government’s “railway as backbone” policy and (justifiably) trumpeting the high modal share (90%) of public transport, Prof Cheung adds rather too much about the constraints the government works under, in a tone of “we’re trying but it’s re-eally too hard to expect real change”.
His mobility solutions focus initially much on walkability, defining it in positive terms but not breaking new ground.
He seemingly endorses a statement that one can walk three kilometres – three MTR stops – through Central, at walkway level above the roads, which isn’t true, is it? (I don’t walk much; cycling is so much easier.) And there’s the obligatory reference to the Mid-levels escalator. (He says that “Some densely populated districts in Hong Kong are .. situated in hilly places”. But I can’t think of any, other than Mid-levels. Echoes of the “HK is too mountainous for cycling” meme.) He talks glowingly about pedestrianised streets but then hints at the fact that some are being withdrawn (allegedly after someone complained).
Selected other interesting admissions, claims and policy positions:
Rush-hour speed on some main roads is only 10 km/h
Building more roads brings more traffic, and more environmental problems [True, of course]
Government policy is to “discourage the use of private cars” [I’m not sure I’ve seen evidence of that, unless you count ‘affordable public transport’]
“In the past, cycling was only considered to be something for leisure. But nowadays, we regard it as a form of short-distance green commuting.” [still with caveats, and not quite the first time it’s been said, but still good to hear.]
still discouraging cycling in the urban areas “for safety reasons” and apparently not challenging that situation
we need a mindset change in the community .. as much as .. among policymakers ..to move away from an unduly vehicular-based or biased mobility perspective. [Well, yes.., but does that mean you’re waiting for the public to change first? What happened to leadership?]
Now for the part that, arguably, talks up cycling.
Prof Cheung says “We also need diversity in our mobility system to cater for different travel needs. Hence, we promote walking and cycling as a mode of short-distance commuting through the provision of pedestrian walkways and cycle tracks.” Not quite committing to a six percent bike mode share by 2020 [as New York has] but at least he flew to Vienna to talk about cycling in Hong Kong.
He goes on to say that motorists, pedestrians and cyclists compete for road space (and always will). Taking that positively, I see an endorsement of our right to use even busy roads. Of course that’s always been true, but many in HK don’t get it. On the other hand, it suggests no interest in pushing back against the ‘competition’ of (some) aggressive people in a ton of armoured motor vehicle against others, more vulnerable, who are making a net positive contribution to society.
Another quote: “we seek to improve our public transport system complemented with suitable walkability and cycling measures”. Yeah, well, ‘suitable’ is another weasel word, but he said ‘cycling’. Several times.
Overall, there are warm and quite strong generalities about cycling and especially walking, though without any new specifics. This Secretary for Transport and Housing is reportedly more favourable to cycling than the Transport Department under him and this speech includes some pleasantly surprising facts and statements. Given the paucity of good news coming out of this government, I’m prepare to see a glass that’s, if not half-full, then at least providing a few refreshing sips.
In Legco yesterday, the tourism industry rep, YIU Si Wing (姚思榮) asked Transport and Housing Bureau if it was/would:
(a) extend the cycle track network to former Frontier area;
(b) develop cycle tracks on the harbourfront;
(c) set up a public bicycle hiring system
(d) promote cycling tourism
Responses from Anthony Cheung, the Secretary for Transport and Housing, were, in summary:
a) yes, perhaps;
b) [ignored question];
c) no; and
d) ‘yes’ [but actually only trivially]
The first ‘perhaps’ is worth noting: about cycle tracks going into the former Frontier Closed Area. All leisure cycle tracks are a plus for Hong Kong, though we need to keep pointing out that they are merely a feature, and certainly not the sum total of cycling here, as TD likes to pretend. So half a cheer for that ‘perhaps’.
Based on that, he rejected any kind of public bicycle rental system (referring to new towns, and ignoring everywhere else), because a) it needs many nodes; b) it requires some load balancing between nodes (moving bikes around to meet need); c) maintenance of bikes; d) existing private rental services “can already meet demand”; e) Hong Kong’s land resources are too limited to provide public rental points.
His responses a), b) and c) simply cite characteristics of a public bicycle rental system, no different from those handled by the 500+ (and rapidly rising) schemes around the world, especially in mainland China. Along with response e), he’s peddling the old canard that Hong Kong is so special that the rest of the world can teach us nothing. And finally, by citing existing rental he is missing the whole value of a network of pick-up and drop-off points. (actually ‘protecting’ the business of a handful of operators, who’d probably anyway benefit from the upsurge in interest, if only they could adapt to it.)
The question about developing cycle tracks along the harbourfront was flatly ignored. How can a government minister do that? Didn’t the THB read the question? Does it think no one will notice? Or does it simply have no respect for Legco and not care who knows?
All in all, the Secretary’s reply showed that our government still doesn’t ‘get’ cycling, or its obligation to work for us.
I’ve not had time to read it all yet, but, like the interim reports, the result seems underwhelming. It only ever tried to look at cycle tracks and a few specific facilities in new towns, not general cycling on roads and the cycling environment as a whole. Or planning ahead for New Development Areas. And I note that the original scope has been cut, with no sign of the promised “conceptual improvement layout plan for each new town”.
On parking, it notes that there is not enough designated parking (that took three years to work out?) but the discussion quickly drops into TD’s favourite issue of what style of parking facility to buy, rather than, say, how to measure and determine where parking is necessary, especially small-scale distributed parking, away from the obvious MTR locations. (Cyclehoop, anybody?)
The issue of poor connectivity of tracks is identified, which is good, but this problem will never be successfully addressed until we aim to maximise throughflow of bike traffic — as in, prioritising cyclists wherever possible, and certainly wherever bikes are the major flow. No mention of that here.
The proposals, within this narrow remit, seem mostly small-scale and unimaginative. So we have a three-year, multi-million-dollar report suggesting things like:
put up plastic bollards in place of steel – to reduce injury severity (already TD’s plan, when they should be removed entirely to .. er .. eliminate the injuries altogether);
paint markings to guide cyclists away from obstacles (just a stopgap: where are the planning guidelines for obstacle-free cycleways?);
paint track surface colours to show trunk and local routes (irrelevant if tracks are still used by commuters, wobblers, sports riders, and kids, with no policy consideration of who and what the tracks are for. Or real training.)
lots of soft padding on things in the way, such as newly erected poles carrying mirrors.
installing railings designed to make parking your bike harder (when it’s not even an offence to park a bike on a footway, central reserve, verge, hard shoulder etc, if no danger or actual obstruction is caused).
Of course, the study makes a number of valid points and raises genuine issues. In particular, it presses for tracks to be connected at various places where currently there are gaps (and recognises that this will involve rebalancing some priorities). It also calls for the implementation of shared footpaths; improved signage and surface markings; cyclist access to leisure facilities (ie. everywhere managed by LCSD); and having Highways Dept staff cycle the tracks at night to determine lighting needs. Many specific problem locations on tracks are enumerated.
If the government, starting with TD, intends to act positively, the study could point towards some modest improvements for cyclists in the new towns.
However, in essence, by looking only at cycle tracks, with no assessment of wider transport policy, patterns of cycle journeys made, and aspirations among cyclists and potential cyclists, it was never going to offer a strategy for more effectively incorporating cycling into our communities. Then by proposing largely what TD is already thinking (or has done!) – minor capital expenditure that tinkers with existing infrastructure, and no solid planning basis for avoiding the same mistakes in future – it falls sadly flat.
More detailed comment will follow.
You can read the report here:
Every day, one-third of the people of Copenhagen ride their bikes to work or school. Collectively, they cycle more than 750,000 miles daily, enough to make it to the moon and back. And city officials want even more people to commute, and over longer distances.
So a network of 26 new bike routes, dubbed “the cycling superhighway,” is being built to link the surrounding suburbs to Copenhagen.
Lars Gaardhoj, an official with the Copenhagen capital region, says the routes will be straight and direct.
“It will be very fast for people who use their bike,” he says. “This is new because traditionally cycle paths have been placed where there is space for them and the cars didn’t run. So now the bike is going to challenge the car.”
The first highway, to the busy suburb of Albertslund some 10 miles outside the city, was completed in April.
To test it, I got a rental bike and went out for a ride.
No Place For Slowpokes
One of the first things you learn about these bike lanes is that you have to move in fast. This is not leisurely biking — this is serious stuff in Copenhagen.
It’s a parallel world of transportation: You’ve got the cars on the roads and the people on their bikes. There are thousands and thousands of people on their bikes here in this city.
EnlargeCourtesy of Eleanor Beardsley for NPRNPR reporter Eleanor Beardsley rides in one of the new bike lanes in Copenhagen. The city is building more than two dozen lanes from the suburbs into the city. They cater to cyclists by including such things as rails and footrests at stoplights.
As commuters pour into Copenhaghen on the new highway, I stop biker Cona Endelgo at a red light. Endelgo says he used to drive his car to work, but biking is better.
“It gives you more exercise and motion, and it’s more free, and it’s quicker. When I pass the harbor, I wave to the cars,” he says.
Each mile of bike highway will cost about $1 million. The project is to be financed by the city of Copenhagen and 21 local governments. And in a country where both right- and left-leaning politicians regularly ride bikes to work, it has bilateral support.
Addressing The Needs Of Bikers
Several innovations are being tested, like “green wave” technology, which times traffic lights to suit bikers. If you maintain a certain pace, you can ride all the way through into the city without stopping. There are also footrests with bars to lean on at traffic lights, and a bike pump every mile in case you have a flat.
Outside the city, the pace is slower and people talk to each other as they ride. Jacob Messen, 33, is on his way to a water park with his kids. He says support for the project runs deep.
“Bicycles are a very essential element in most people’s lives in Denmark,” he says. “We have them as small infants and all the way up through the ages.”
He’s not kidding. Another rider, 83-year-old Soulva Jensen, is using the highway to visit her daughter in a neighboring town.
“The trains are too much trouble at the moment, so I thought it was easier to take the bike,” she says.
Once the highway network is completed, an estimated 15,000 additional people will switch from driving to biking. And that, say officials, will have a direct impact on the environment, public health and finances. The bike highway alone is expected to save Copenhagen’s health care system some $60 million a year.
A few years ago, the New York Times published a five-sentence brief about a man who “intentionally ran over five people” with an SUV after a fight in North Bellmore, Long Island. The driver, the Times reported, “fled the scene of the accident.” The police later located the vehicle that “they believed was involved in the accident.” One of the victims was in critical condition.
Ho hum. News briefs about the previous day’s car crashes are as routine as box scores and the weather forecast. Yet, in this case, the Times’ (and, presumably, the Nassau County cops’) choice of one particular word stood out: If a man intentionally ran over five people, how could that possibly be considered an accident? If, instead of car keys, the man had picked up a gun and shot five people, would the press and police have called that an “accident” too? No. They’d have called it “attempted homicide.” Yet, for some reason when the weapon is a car, when the violence on our streets is done with a motor vehicle, it’s always just an “accident.”
So, is it any surprise that the NYPD’s “Accident” Investigation Squad so frequently declares “no criminality suspected” after a motor vehicle is used to kill a pedestrian or cyclist on New York City streets? After all, they don’t call themselves the Motor Vehicle Manslaughter Squad. They don’t think of themselves as homicide detectives, or cars as weapons, or drivers as killers. The word “accident” implies no fault. It’s what we call it when a toddler makes a small mess. “Don’t cry over spilled milk,” we say. The assumption is built into the name of the NYPD bureaucracy itself: Death by motor vehicle is an “accident” before the investigators even get to what may very well be the scene of a crime. The Accident Investigation Squad is there to clean up and keep the traffic moving.
Though it may sometimes seem otherwise, New York City drivers don’t wake up in the morning intending to harm pedestrians and cyclists. Most crashes are unintentional and “accident” is not an inaccurate word to describe them. But the fact remains: Driver negligence is the number one cause of crashes, and it’s no big surprise—or accident—when negligent driving hurts and kills people on crowded city streets. In fact, our legal system has a word for this type of unintentional killing: “Manslaughter.” Lots of work needs to be done and lots of things need to change to fix the way the NYPD deals with pedestrians and cyclists who have been injured and killed by negligent drivers. But if it’s true that small changes in language can have a big impact on public policy, then the easiest change is simply this: Stop calling car crashes “accidents.”
The Transport Department has just released a new ‘Cycling Safety’ video. It’s 14 minutes long and will be shown in schools and at government offices open to the public, such as vehicle licensing centres and police stations.
This online version is split into six sections: Equipment, Basic Skills, Riding on Cycle Tracks, Riding on the Road, For Motorists and For Pedestrians.
Rather than telling you what we think of it, immediately, why not take a look and tell us your view?
After being hit by a taxi, Anthony has been discussing with Transport Department about installing an Advanced Stop box for cyclists on southbound Waterloo Road at the junction with Wylie Road.
Advanced Stop Lines/Boxes are used around the world, giving cyclists a safe and visible place to stop and wait at traffic lights, whilst having a minimal effect on space for cars and other vehicles. ASL’s have made a large impact in London in particular where they are installed in large numbers. It is time for Hong Kong to embrace the bicycle as a feasible mode of transport and enable it with simple measures like these.
The proposed stop box is in the centre of the photo on the left, between the two drains, taking up no existing traffic waiting space whilst enabling cyclists to wait for the traffic lights in safety.
Already the location of many exciting local and national cycling initiatives, the United Kingdom is taking further steps to ensure that cycling maintains a central role in development across the country. The transport minister responsible for cycling (sigh .. here in Hong Kong, our government won’t even acknowledge that cycling *is* transport) has emphasised that cycling is “mainstream transport policy” and is coordinating the integration of cycling-enabled environment in all areas.
A short, sharp message from Transport for London headlines their latest PR campaign warning about the danger of HGV lorries.
Thousands of handlebar leaflets are being put on bikes all over London and there will be posters re-enforcing the message.
The posters give a very quick warning to all cyclists. Beware of all lorries, staying behind is the safest option.
Being hit by a large lorry is thankfully rare but always serious and more likely to be fatal than any other crash. If there is a junction nearby, don’t try to overtake as lorries turn quickly, cutting across your path.
Recognise that lorry drivers may not be able to see you
Never cycle up the left side of a lorry stopped at a junction
Look out for lorries turning left from beside or behind you
Don’t stop too close to the front of a stopped lorry and stay away from the lorry’s front near side. If a lorry comes up behind you, move forward enough to ensure you are in the driver’s field of vision
Take up a visible position at lights or advanced stop lines: three metres out in front and not by the left kerb or very close to the lorry
Behind a lorry is often the safest place to be. When you need to overtake a large lorry, do so on the right-hand side, so that the driver can see you
Transport for London is keen to point out that it is also targeting lorry drivers. – The HK Government does not even target car drivers, but it would be a great and necessary step for them to also target lorry drivers.
They will be putting on information events at channel ports and lorry service areas, aimed at drivers heading for London. – This kind of informational event is perfectly possible on Hong Kong also, around the container ports and at the road crossings from mainland china.
Great thanks go to Matteo for allowing us to use his photo of the delivery cyclist. He writes on his own blog about riding vintage Fuji bikes "There is something special about these vintage fuji bicycles. It is inexplainable, but it is real. They are quality. They are beautiful. They surpass expectation.". See more at Fuji Crazy
Many thanks also to Christopher Dewolf for his photo of cycling at sunset in Ma on Shan. His photos can be found at his Flickr Site, and some of his many writings & photos can be found at Urbanphoto.net
Huge Thanks to Jason Findlay for the photo of the Harbourfront bike Ride 5 near Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter