Hong Kongers are to be kept in the dark over a two-year HK$5.4 million contract to conduct a feasibility study into the development of a new pedestrian wayfinding signage system for the city, with neither the government or the winning contractor Arup willing to share any information a year after the tender was launched.
The tender document was first released in mid-April 2020 and was only available to a group of favoured consultants, including Arup, Mott MacDonald, AECOM and Atkins China.
Transport Department (TD) awarded the contract to Arup in February this year, with the feasibility study due for completion in February 2023.
But no further details are publicly available. “The tender document cannot be released to the public,” says an engineer in TD’s Walkability Task Force.
Arup, too, was tightlipped on the details.
“We have an NDA with our client that all project information cannot be released unless it later on becomes a public knowledge,” says Carmen Chu, Director of Transport Consulting at Arup, who is running the project for the consultant.
“Hence, we are looking forward to the public consultation stage of this study,” she says, predicting public consultation might typically run around February to September 2022, based on experience with similar projects.
TD did not respond to further questions.
A local walkability engineer guessed the scope of the Arup consultancy scope would be to study the impact of earlier work into pedestrian wayfinding.
In 2018, Transport for London Consulting developed a pilot wayfinding system for Tsim Sha Tsui, with two monoliths in the style of London’s popular wayfinding “legibles” and five wall-mounted signs to encourage walking. The project cost HK$3 million, TD said at the time, and would be expanded if popular.
Many locals and tourists appreciated the large clear maps which, for the first time in Hong Kong, listed walking times and walking routes for pedestrians.
Some, however, questioned the cost.
One urban planner, who was not involved in the tender process but who has worked on a number of government projects, says Hong Kong’s whole consultancy system was problematic.
“I never cease to be astounded at the number of studies this government commissions, which always seem to go to the same companies. The ones which sound intriguing rarely make a dent in existing practices – the [other] ‘walkability’ study, which is not even concluded yet, was not even mentioned as a reference study in the artificial island tender, unlike dozens and dozens of others,” he says.