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?
(It’s worth reading in full)
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 He talks glowingly about pedestrianised streets but then hints at the fact that some are being withdrawn (allegedly after someone complained).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’]
- Hong Kong was rated “the most walkable” city of China (by NRDC) [not all agree]
- Hong Kong is always rainy and hot [oh yeah, right]
- “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.
Notably, he defined the New Territories Cycle Track Network as “so that the public can cycle for both commuting and leisure”, which is new – it’s always been described as for leisure and recreation. What’s left of it, and if it ever gets built.
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.
The speech is available here.