Whether it’s designing Hong Kong’s MTR or its walkways, the city must put people first when planning for a future that is active, liveable, and happy.
The Business Environment Council’s (BEC) flagship event went online this year, welcoming 400 entrepreneurs, stakeholders, and industry-interested viewers to join in on the day-long series of talks and panel discussions centred around urban transport.
Putting people first was a clear motif, with conference guests exploring the many facets of HK’s transportation system that need to be introduced, altered, or scrapped in order to successfully transform the city into one that is, as BEC Chairman Richard Lancaster said, “happier, healthier, and more active.”
Thomas Deloison, Director of Mobility at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, emphasised during his talk that COVID-19 is “accelerating existing trends” of digitisation around the world – and Hong Kong is no exception. He believes that the need for the electrification of transport, safer roads, and inclusivity is imperative; and that the private sector can be the leaders of this change.
A common and persistant refrain directed attention to the steep rise in private car ownership in Hong Kong, which has risen by 80 percent since 1997; road infrastructure has not developed accordingly. This has contributed to the increasing problem of traffic congestion and a lack of parking spaces.
“We are sitting on a bomb,” insisted Alok Jain, Managing Director of Trans-consult Ltd. Jain’s solutions included the electrification of buses, and to follow Shenzhen’s example with expanding the city’s railway.
One of Jain’s suggestions to curb private vehicle ownership includes doubling the first registration tax on gasoline vehicles. Alexander Mastrovito, Head of Sustainability at Scania, said that the government could legislate a mandatory deadline and additional incentives that encourage owners to scrap old fuel-powered vehicles in exchange for an electric vehicle.
When it comes to non-motorised transport such as bicycles and scooters, Steve Yiu, Principal Advisor of Property Planning at MTR Corporation, thinks that development should focus on balancing safety and good design, creating spaces optimised for bicycle parking while ensuring the separation of non-motorised travellers from vehicle flow.
The conference’s fourth and final session explored walkability, which is also part of HK’s urban design equation. Bronwen Thomson insists that cities cannot sustainably continue to invest in car infrastructure with a growing population, and as a city where over 90 percent of trips are made on foot and public transit, HK needs to ensure that it plans its urban design with the walking experience in mind.
“Hongkongers walk a lot, but it’s not an enjoyable experience … Liveability is about time and allocating the precious time we have,” said Roger Torino, Associate Planner at OTC Limited. The frequency of barriers, construction planks, and other obstructions interfere with the quality of the city’s pedestrian landscape.
One way the city could experiment with future walkability designs is by running pilots in low traffic zones, Nicholas Brooke of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) suggested during his talk.
When asked about whether there is any support for walkability from district councillors, Patrick Fung, CEO of Cleaner Air Network, saidd that the councillors respect the concerns of individuals in their communities. Therefore, if community members were interested in walkability design, they would listen accordingly and help push HK to become a city where walking is not just a necessity, but an enjoyable experience.
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