The Chief Executive today outlined planning for cycle tracks that lobbyists say is just a restatement of a long-toothed project and will not help shift commuter journeys away from cars.
In the final Policy Address of her current Chief Executive term, Carrie Lam said cycling “has become a popular outdoor activity in recent years” and spelled out plans for what she called the “urban area”.
“The 13km GreenWay for shared use by pedestrians and cyclists in the Kai Tak Development Area will be completed in phases from 2023 onwards,” she said.
But campaigners quickly pointed out Kai Tak GreenWay has been stuck in planning for years, with a cycle track first proposed in the area following a 2004 study. The 13km track plan was put forward by the Task Force on Kai Tak Harbourfront Development in 2014 and formalised as part of CY Leung’s 2017 Policy Address.
“The Government will continue to create a bicycle-friendly environment in new towns and new development areas, and extend the cycle track network within the open spaces of the Kai Tak Development Area to about 13km to link up major attractions,” the government said in 2017, at the time of Leung’s announcement.
Martin Turner, chairman of Hong Kong’s largest cycle advocacy group, Hong Kong Cycling Alliance (HKCAll), says the group was consulted by the government and consultants AECOM in 2011 about the track and says at the time he urged that the plans not be solely focused on leisure and recreational cycling.
He says the plans launched in the Policy Address are ultimately disappointing and nothing new.
“Carrie’s policy address recycles old news, mentions the belated opening of sections of the New Territories Cycle Track Network, but offers nothing new. It says: ‘Cycling has become a popular outdoor activity’. Really? Have Carrie and her team only just noticed that Hong Kong people want to able to ride bikes, safely and conveniently?”
“It’s a cut-and-paste of longstanding – and delayed – promises, with zero impetus towards the global trend of enhanced active mobility” says Turner.
A lack of vision for shifting “vehicle-centred to people-centred”
Meanwhile Patrick Fung, Chief Executive Officer of the environmental lobby group Clean Air Network, says the lack of any policy on congestion control or electronic road pricing in the Policy Address is a cause for concern, while the walkability policies mentioned were too “piecemeal”.
Fung points out there was no sign at all of one of Carrie Lam’s 2017 election pledges – electronic road pricing (ERP).
“Since raised by Carrie Lam in the CE Election 2017, a Consultation of the Scheme was put forth by the Transport Department to the District Council to seek public opinion in 2019. But there was no concrete direction or progress specified in either policy addresses of 2020 and 2021,” he says.
“After the failure of the government plan to conduct toll rationalisation for harbour crossing, to increase penalty for illegal parking, it seems it is not a surprise at all to see a lack of progress for ERP,” he adds.
While Fung acknowledges Lam’s attempts to provide status updates on some walkability projects, such as barrier-free access at walkways and implementation of pedestrian links, he says there’s still no coherent vision.
“These are initiatives which help to enhance walkable environment, but piecemeal. I believe the Policy Address 2021, or the progress made by the government, is not able to address to the vision of some of the more progressive advocates or professional groups, who want to see a paradigm change of urban planning from vehicle-centred to people-centred.”
“This shouldn’t be only rhetoric but also measurable goals,” he says, pointing out the 2017 “Consultancy Study on Enhancing Walkability in Hong Kong” is already several years overdue.
Building big: a new Northern Metropolis
Despite the criticisms of the policy address from campaigners, Lam raised many new initiatives in her address, including a “Northern Metropolis” for 2.5 million people, to be built with, she said, a “railway as a backbone” approach.
The Northern Metropolis will connect with the Greater Bay Area via a new Hong Kong-Shenzhen Western Railway; a northern link to Huanggang Port via the Lok Ma Chau Loop; and a possible extension of the East Rail Line into Shenzhen. Lam also discussed an automated people mover system that would run from Tsim Bei Tsui to Pak Nai, along the coastline of Shenzhen Bay.
And in an expected bureaucratic shake-up, Lam proposed splitting the Transport and Housing Bureau “to provide a more dedicated high‑level steer for these two major policy areas, enabling in particular the new Transport Bureau to focus on transport infrastructure, public transport services and traffic management,” she said.
Clean Air Network’s Patrick Fung says the new bureau offered an opportunity to change the way transport was assessed.
“The new Transport Bureau should develop a holistic strategy to make transport work in Hong Kong, with a sustainable transport vision to achieve not only efficiency for vehicular traffic but more importantly efficiency for commuters, environmental efficiency (air pollutants, CO2) and health outcomes, such as number of obesity/respiratory/circulatory cases,” he says.