Transport Department has scrubbed public records and dodged questions on the disappearance of a government pedestrianisation website, refusing to even acknowledge the planned schemes in answers to enquiries and even deleting details of the $13.9 million walkability project from its list of awarded consultancies.
The axing of the walk.hk website, together with all mention of the government’s Soho and Sham Shui Po pedestrianisation pledges, first came to light in the wake of a horrific crash in Soho, where a young woman was killed and seven others injured by a runaway car on Friday evening.
Staunton Street, where 27-year-old Elodie Ma was fatally injured while walking with friends, was one of the pilot streets slated for possible pedestrianisation under the 30-month walk.hk consultancy project. That project, awarded to Mott Macdonald in 2017, set out a detailed pathway for pedestrianisation of several pilot areas.
And while the website was found missing at the weekend, the walk.hk project details, including tender reference CE17/2017, had still been listed on the government’s “Award of Contracts and Consultancies” page at least until Saturday 11 December.
But yesterday, the project was found to have disappeared from that list, leaving no public record of the contract having ever existed. Transport Department (TD) added a note to its “contracts awarded” page saying “Contracts which have been completed will not be included in the table above”. That note is new – until yesterday, TD’s “contract award” page listed all contracts awarded by TD, not just the outstanding or incomplete projects.
Transit Jam reached out to Mott MacDonald’s Hong Kong-based Head of Cities Anne Kerr and to the firm’s walk.hk project lead Chris Leung but neither has responded.
Meanwhile in its responses to Transit Jam, TD did not specifically acknowledge the Mott MacDonald project, saying only it would “continue in its endeavour to enhance walkability in Hong Kong”.
“In line with the ‘Walk in HK’ initiative, the Transport Department (TD) has completed a consultancy study in mid-2021 to update the existing standards and design in relation to pedestrian environment and facilities for creating a pedestrian-friendly environment. The TD has also tested out new walkability enhancement initiatives,” it added.
But those “walkability enhancement initiatives” relate only to some small-scale schemes including two signposts in Tsim Sha Tsui, the removal of a handful of traffic signs to declutter pavements and trialling two “raised crossings” painted brown “to enhance drivers awareness when passing the pedestrian crossing”.
At one of the those pilot crossings outside Shun Tak Centre last week, drivers continued to speed through without pause for those trying to cross the road. Others parked illegally on or around that crossing, reducing visibility and increasing danger for pedestrians trying to access the harbourfront or Shun Tak Centre.
Compared to the surviving ‘Walk in HK’ projects listed by TD, the Mott Macdonald study had promised much more, prioritising the theme of enhancing pedestrian networks, as well as providing a safe and quality pedestrian environment.
2018 documents salvaged before the walk.hk purge show Staunton Street to be a prime candidate for becoming a “part-time pedestrian street or traffic calming street”.
In Central, walk.hk had proposed sweeping reforms, including widening of streets in Sheung Wan, connecting new walkaways to car parks to encourage “park and walk” and to keep cars out of the central business districts; and improving the walking network in and around Soho and Tai Ping Shan.
None of these initiatives are mentioned on the walk.hk replacement web page and no work has been seen.
In Soho, a small shrine has grown around the spot where Elodie Ma was killed. But pavements remain narrow and obstructed, and cars and trucks still rule the street. Some walking past the memorial this morning questioned why cars are still allowed in the neighbourhood at all. For now, those questions remain unanswered.