Hong Kong civil servants have stonewalled questions on three pedestrian deaths at locations studied by highly paid consultancy firms.
Fatal crashes claimed the life of a 23-year-old Elodie Ma on Staunton Street in mid-December while a 23-year-old woman, Shi Wuyang, and 63-year-old man, Li Wing-keung, were killed on Tai Yau Street in San Po Kong on New Year’s Eve.
Both crash sites had been studied in detail by engineering firms earning a slice of Hong Kong’s billion-dollar government consultation market.
Regarding the San Po Kong crash, Transit Jam has received no response from the Energizing Kowloon East Office (EKEO) or Development Bureau on a government-funded AECOM study into Tai Yau Street and the surrounding area.
The AECOM walkability study built on government recommendations to privatise walking infrastructure and to maintain Tau Yau Street as a “major traffic corridor” while developing back-alleys for pedestrian linkages.
At the time of the consultancy work, the Hong Kong Institute of Urban Design said the study had a “common flaw” seen in other pedestrian-related studies.
“Although the terms ‘walkability’ and ‘connectivity’ appeared in the Study Objectives, the presentation which we have been shown has placed a lot of emphasis on pavement widenings and signal control measures. We are of the opinion that a lot more has yet to be done on place making, greening, heritage preservation and the creation of variety and vibrancy,” wrote the HKIUD Public Affairs Committee in January 2019.
A local road safety expert called the study “grossly inadequate”, calling for walkability studies in the city to follow the “Safe Systems Approach” (SSA) rather than relying on drivers keeping to rules.
An “SSA requires that the system is fail-safe, and therefore managing the energy of collision at reduced speed, and in turn the degree of trauma, is essential,” they said, pointing out that Hong Kong’s approach was “conventional”.
AECOM, a firm awarded tens if not hundreds of government contracts and consultancies, and which has also been selected as the engineering consultant for Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s “Northern Metropolis” plan, did not respond to questions.
Meanwhile Transport Department (TD) has given no further response on why it deleted records of a $13.9 million Mott MacDonald Study on Soho and Staunton Street, after journalists raised questions on the study’s failure to deliver its pedestrianisation pledges.
A high-level source told Transit Jam the details were deleted due to awkward questions raised.
A TD spokeswoman counter-claimed the records had been deleted as part of a routine “updating exercise”. However, these records had not been cleaned or updated for at least five years beforehand, and the cleaning came just a day or two after questions on the contract were raised.
The government’s proffered timeline for the deletion does not match reality.
While TD said the project was deleted before the 10 December crash, the $13.9 million walkability contract in question was still listed on TD’s list of contracts on Saturday 11 December, the day after the crash, and in fact disappeared from that list sometime between Sunday 12 December and Wednesday 15 December.
But the government has not explained the discrepancy, despite repeated questions and made no further comment on the issues.
Study author Mott MacDonald has said it may be able to comment later.