Bicycles are not a suitable mode of transport for urban areas, according to Transport Department (TD) in a statement released yesterday in response to questions on Hongkong Electric’s recent vocal support of cycling in the city.
Asked if it supported Hongkong Electric’s view that cycling could help reduce pollution and improve public health, the department said the government’s policy of a “bicycle-friendly environment” extended only to new development areas and new towns and that urban areas were too dangerous for cycling.
“Traffic in the urban area […] is relatively heavy, with narrower and more crowded roads. Cyclists using roads in the urban area may have to change between outer and inner lanes more frequently, hence increasing risks on roads, the cyclists themselves and other road users,” said a TD spokeswoman.
“Due to road safety considerations, the Government does not encourage the public to use bicycles as a mode of transport in the urban area,” she said.
Urban areas include all of Hong Kong Island and most of Kowloon, while cycling is encouraged as a recreational pursuit and short-distance commuting tool in New Territories and Tseung Kwan O.
The government’s stance on urban cycling is in stark contrast to other world cities. Hong Kong is conspicuously absent from the cities listed as members in the C40’s “Walking and Cycling Network” to which 47 cities, from Houston to Ho Chi Minh City, have signed up.
London, for example, has had a “cycling commissioner” since 2013 and has a 10-year GBP1 billion (HK$9.5 billion) plan to “normalise” cycling and “make it something anyone feels comfortable doing”.
Wuhan, as part of its C40 commitment, has pledged “green transport” to reach 80% of all travel, with cycling to reach not less than 20% and with cyclists enjoying 1,141 km of physically-segregated cycle lanes.
Officials in Hong Kong have privately expressed concerns beyond safety, including that cycling would slow traffic and increase congestion.
But while the government claims roads are “narrower and more crowded” in urban areas, in fact a survey of half a dozen typical urban roads on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon found, quite typically, three or two lanes of road reduced to one lane of traffic with one or two lanes of illegal parking. These include major thoroughfares such as Queen’s Road Central on Hong Kong Island and Shanghai Street in Kowloon.
Many connecting roads, such as almost every branch from Nathan Road east and west, suffered illegal parking blocking at least one lane of traffic and causing significant congestion even at non-peak hours.