Harbour Views 2 Aug 2007

How can traffic flow be improved?

The worsening traffic congestion in Mid-Levels, Wan Chai, Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui is only the start of a much more serious problem. Unfortunately, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and his team of experts seem to have little understanding of the dramatic shift in policy that is needed in order to confront the challenges faced.

With our governance and political systems geared towards maximising revenue from land premiums, rates and rentals and today's cabinet focused on "more construction, more people" for the next five years, there appears to be no political will to implement the painful but necessary solutions needed to address the density and traffic issues such as: controlling private property development rights; reducing the land sales programme; and reviewing Hong Kong's urban renewal strategy and its aggressive compensation scheme.

Measures that could alleviate the deteriorating situation, such as sustainable transport solutions like rail, trams and escalators, are hampered by Hong Kong's refusal to subsidise these as a public good.

It is further not helped by the improvements in the relative cost of car usage.

Our rail lines are overcrowded and people's wealth has increased. The number of strategic roads has risen, parking is cheaper and second-hand cars are available and cheap. The increased cost of fuel has little impact, given the short distances generally traveled. Hong Kong's claim to having the lowest private car ownership per capita may soon be lost.

Of course we can remove all public spaces, heritage sites, street markets, lanes, pavements and pedestrian crossings and push all people on to podiums and elevated walkways, so that we can widen and build more roads for a little while longer.

We can tunnel ring roads through our mountains and replace Hong Kong's natural assets - the harbour and shorelines - with more "inner" roads.

If we disregard the quality of our urban living space we can surely squeeze more density and more traffic into Hong Kong's urban areas.

But as custodians of our city for the next generation, we must heed this warning: there is no turning back. The unique island topography with narrow strips of developable land squeezed between mountains and the sea allows no room for error.


Paul Zimmerman


Designing Hong Kong Harbour District

(SCMP - Talkback - 2 August 2007)