Authorities seized 16 bikes in a bike clearance operation on Lamma Island today, then dumped them in the countryside where locals later rescued working machines and salvageable parts.
The bike clearance is a regular event on Lamma, run by the district council office and three government departments: Lands, FEHD and the police. According to Jo Wilson, of Living Lamma, around 200 bikes are typically removed in such operations.
A local district council representative on the scene says the clearances are necessary to remove old and rusted bikes. But the removal process appears haphazard, with only around a handful cleared from the ferry pier area while the ferry bike park remains packed with abandoned bikes.
The cleared bikes were dumped a few kilometres away in a remote fenced-off undergrowth patch dubbed the “bike graveyard” by residents.
Wilson says she feels partly responsible for the existence of the graveyard: previously bikes were taken to the dump and compacted, but she took a stand against this waste. “I chased the VV [Village Vehicle] one time and found they were putting these almost new bikes into the trash compactor… I told them it’s a waste, our landfills are already full, so I convinced them to stop and now, we have our own bike landfill on Lamma.”
A few locals were seen picking through the latest crop – one found a decent-looking mountain bike, threw it over the fence and, with some squeaking of brakes, sped off down the steep hill. A pair with a VV, the only motorised transport allowed on Lamma, took a couple of working mountain bikes and some handlebars. “It’s some form of recycling,” said one, although technically, according to a district council representative, the bikes become government property once they are seized and even the owners can’t get them back.
Bike parking is a thorny issue on Lamma Island. Before the HK$24 million bike park was built in 2015, bikes could be parked along the ferry pier railings – but residents say it’s very hard to find a space in the new bike park, with just 300 spaces against a need of around 400 even back in 2015.
The bike park is “not fit for purpose,” according to Wilson.
“There’s no consideration of people,” she says. “What’s wrong with putting bike parking where people want to park their bikes?”
Locals are frustrated with the lack of space. Lamma resident Ines says she can usually find a space at 6.20am but by 7am it’s harder and much after 7am usually impossible.
Meanwhile Nora says she and her young family usually park outside the bike park, along the railings, but today used the park as they heard there was a clearance operation.
And resident Jonathan says he doesn’t use the bike park at all, taking his bike into Central with him. But he says the bike park should be cleared: there’s a lot of rusted bikes with flat tyres there, he says.
Some locals support the bike seizures – one Lamma resident said on Facebook that leaving old bikes at the ferry pier for someone else to clean up was “rude and irresponsible”, the equivalent of throwing one’s trash out in public.
Around Hong Kong last year, government departments conducted 376 similar clearance operations, seizing and confiscating a total of 14,846 bikes.
But Martin Turner, chairman of the Hong Kong Cycling Alliance says these operations are possibly illegal. “The government’s relentless seizure of people’s bikes is wrong on so many levels. Many if not most are parked in accordance with the Parking Regulations for bicycles (not causing danger or actual obstruction) but officials disingenuously cite the Lands Ordinance (‘occupying government land’) or the Summary Offences Ordinance. Let’s be clear, it’s not old and rusted bikes that are taken, it is often good bikes in regular use,” he says.
“Then there’s the whole issue of getting the bikes back or at least compensation, per Article 105 of the Basic Law, which requires that the HKSAR ‘protect the right of individuals .. to compensation for lawful deprivation of their property.’ When car owners park illegally and dangerously, their vehicles are not dumped or destroyed. Why so with bikes?” says Turner.