Battle lines have been drawn between transport officials and the Environment Bureau’s new climate change vision, with Transport Department (TD) rejecting cycling as an urban mode of transport in direct opposition to the city’s decarbonisation blueprint.
The government’s Council for Sustainable Development (CSD) last week released Hong Kong’s first long-term decarbonisation plan, calling for Hong Kong to achieve “net zero” by 2050 in line with President Xi Jingping’s goals for mainland China. CSD’s vision called for a transition to low-carbon transport systems and “investment in non-motorised transport infrastructure.”
But TD pooh-poohed the idea of biking outside new towns as unworkable. “The Government has all along been adopting a prudent approach and does not encourage public to use bicycles as a mode of transport in urban areas,” it said in response to questions about the CSD vision.
“Cyclists using roads in urban areas may have to change between outer and inner lanes due to the alighting and boarding of public transport passengers, hence increasing possible risks on roads. If a large number of cyclists share the busy roads in urban areas with motorists of other vehicles, the risk of accidents will also increase,” TD said, echoing a long-standing policy from TD to suppress cycling in the city on road safety grounds.
Responding to questions about TD’s attitude, Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, chairman of the CSD, said decarbonisation would need a more collaborative approach. “Our [CSD] report is submitted to the Environment Bureau, but we recommend there should be a cross-bureaux team looking at these issues, not just environment: this should include transport, housing, finance and so on, it needs to be a very comprehensive approach to decarbonisation.”
Jonathan Wong Woon-chung, who chairs the CSD’s Strategy subcommittee, said it will take time to change attitudes. “This report is setting the direction that we may increase biking in Hong Kong, but how we do that? The government departments will need to think about that, how to make parking spaces for bikes, to discuss shared bikes, we need to think about these things for the future planning of the city.”
The CSD report says a key 10-year goal must be “restraining automobile ownership, and discouraging the use of private cars, while encouraging walking and cycling as well as maintaining an efficient and reliable public transport system.”
TD defended its position as “generally in line with the recommendations on cycling under the Report on Public Engagement on Long-term Decarbonisation Strategy.” The department said it has “endeavoured to foster a ‘bicycle-friendly’ environment and promote cycling for recreation and short-distance commuting where road safety conditions permit, particularity in new towns and new development areas.”