(Exclusive) Talking of walking the walk

Top News | Phoebe Ng 13 Sep 2017

The government will test two new measures to make Hong Kong more walkable and stepping out an integral part of city life.

Details are likely to be set out in Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet- ngor's policy address on October 11.

The Transport and Housing Bureau told The Standard the government will launch a series of new measures, including a consultancy study commissioned by the Transport Department, "to select two areas for pilot study to test innovative measures for a comfortable walking environment, and explore relaxing requirements for adding covers to public walkways" at the end of this year or early next year.

Two other studies will also be made to improve hillside escalator links and elevator systems (HEL) as well as pedestrian connectivity between Sheung Wan and Wan Chai.

"We will commence a study at the end of 2017 to review and improve the assessment mechanism for proposed HEL projects," the bureau said.

"We will also review and update relevant planning standards and design in relation to pedestrian environment and facilities. Examples include greening for carriageways and footways, widths of footways and buffer zones, pedestrian crossing facilities, barrier-free facilities and roadside facilities."

Experts believe Des Voeux Road Central could be a pilot area following a community-based movement to make a 1.4-kilometer section of the road into a traffic-free "world-class public space." Commercial districts like Mong Kok could be the second area.

Environment expert William Yu Yuen-ping and transport expert Paul Zimmerman suggested the government should take the opportunity to rectify the city's most notorious problems of chaotic traffic and unpleasant streets.

Yu, founder of the World Green Organisation, said the study could take on more challenging areas such as Nathan Road and experiment with new elements.

"It works much better picking districts with pedestrian-vehicle conflicts - one of the most typical road problems in Hong Kong - so that you can duplicate it elsewhere in the future," said Yu, a professor at the City University of Hong Kong.

He said the government could echo Britain which managed to improve South London streets by reducing bus lanes and removing railings.

Another issue needing action is the heat island effect caused by high density of buildings.

"In areas packed with skyscrapers, like Central, work should be done on ventilation and shading," Yu said.

Ideally, cooling should be achieved through greening, with some water facilities.

"It is all about regenerating existing sites and increasing space to optimize roads for pedestrians rather than cars," Yu said.

"We are now too reliant on bridges, and strollers rarely see greenery."

Zimmerman suggested the government look at Des Voeux Road Central as a whole.

"DVRC is a big challenge," he said. "For example, Pedder Street to the east, if you look at Hudson House, there are lots of trees, the pavements are wide, beautiful railings.

"But if you look at Pedder Street West, it is a mess."

For the second site, he said the government can possibly look at the Kowloon side.

"It can be Tsim Sha Tsui, Jordan but probably Mong Kok, where the pedestrian zone is a big problem," he said.

Zimmerman expected Lam to speak on walkability issues in her policy address.

Yu would like Lam to further commit to turning Hong Kong toward a walking city, not just on paper but to make it a reality.

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