Speech on planning for pedestrians (English only)
The following is a speech delivered by the Secretary for Planning and Lands, Mr John C Tsang, at the Asian Institute of Intelligent Buildings' first anniversary annual dinner this evening (January 14):
Planning for Pedestrians
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here this evening to join you in celebrating the first Anniversary Annual Dinner of the Asian Institute of Intelligent Buildings. Your honorable President, Professor Andrew Leung, has suggested that I might wish to speak about the future plan of infrastructure development of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government in the coming decade.
This is a very important topic indeed, and a broad one too, but one that might perhaps be less suitable for a formal evening dinner function like this one. I do not want to bore you tonight with a lengthy, serious monologue citing numerous pieces of statistics and project titles. I think you would prefer something that is livelier, lighter and multimedia. Suffice to say that we will be spending some $600 billion over the next 15 years in infrastructural projects. Instead, I would like to focus tonight on a specific topic that takes up just a small niche in the overall infrastructure issue, and a topic that follows the intelligence theme contained in the name of your esteemed Institute.
I shall, in the next 10 minutes or so, take you through some of our preliminary thinking on the subject of "Planning for Pedestrians". I shall set out our vision to make walking one of our principal modes of transport, the challenges that we face and how we intend to implement this vision. I shall contain myself to the planning aspects tonight, and leave the identification of means to modify our innately lazy human nature to the Skinnerians in our society.
Most of us walk everyday. Some more and some less. I definitely belong to the latter category, but I promise you that things will change. Walking is the most elementary form of going places, and probably, the most efficient form of travel for short distance journeys. It is also good for health, and the more we walk, the less we will rely on motorized transport. That will help reduce unnecessary road traffic and pollution.
Opportunity and Vision
I don't think I need to convince you that Hong Kong is a highly compact city. We all know that some parts of our city even carry the reputation of having the highest density in the world. But our city is also well covered by public transport services. It is very convenient to go from one part of our city to another. We also have many modes of transport from which to choose. That convenience actually poses a lot of challenges for us to promote "walking" as a key mode of transport.
To take forward the idea, we need to develop an attractive, safe and convenient pedestrian environment which will not only encourage people to walk out of necessity, but to provide the added value of enjoyment in walking.
First of all, let me take you through the problems that the pedestrians in Hong Kong face on a daily basis.
Most of you will agree that walking in the urban areas of Hong Kong, such as Mong Kok or Causeway Bay, is not the most pleasant experience.
Quite a number of our footpaths and sidewalks are too narrow. We have large, sometimes unruly, crowds who are always in a hurry competing for the limited space.
It is difficult to cross roads at the ground level. The competition between pedestrians and cars are fierce at certain junctions.
Signage is often inadequate. There are also many barriers to pedestrian movement. The needs of the elderly and the disabled are not fully taken care of. There is no place to rest. There is inadequate protection from bad weather.
Sometimes the footpaths are poorly maintained and that causes safety problems.
Together with the noise and air pollution from road traffic, and I have intentionally used an old, hopefully historic, photograph of a taxi spewing black smoke, it is not difficult to understand why people choose to minimize walking opportunities.
The Guiding Principles
To make walking an attractive option, we have identified four guiding principles for pedestrian planning. The underlying principle is "Pedestrians First". That means simply that we must plan from the angle of the pedestrians and their needs.
Linkage - this is the first principle. Pedestrian routes should be clear and direct. For longer or upward sloping routes, escalators and travellators should be installed to encourage the public to walk and to serve the needs of the physically challenged.
No one will be willing to walk if it is not safe. The second principle is, therefore, to ensure pedestrians' personal safety. The walkways should be separated from road vehicles and they should be well-lit.
The third principle is Accessibility and Comfort. The pedestrian walkways should be easily accessible, free from pollution, and properly designed with landscaping, weather protection installations and seating facilities to provide a comfortable and pleasant walking environment.
Last but not least is the principle of Attractiveness and Vibrancy. We should seek to create suitable pedestrian areas for a variety of activities, such as outdoor performance, alfresco dining, flea markets, or just watching the world go by.
The concept of pedestrian planning has been adopted in many cities. There are certainly many good ideas we can learn from.
With the completion of a number of planned railways, such as West Rail, Ma On Shan Rail and MTR Tseung Kwan O Extension, most of the working and residential areas in Hong Kong will be within the walking distance of railway stations. We define that as a distance not longer than 500 meters or about 15 to 20 minutes of walking.
We should make the best use of the comprehensive rail coverage, and promote pedestrian planning for catchment areas of rail networks, so that people who need to make longer distance trips would be able to comfortably walk to the rail stations.
We have already been working along this direction. For example, there are comprehensive footbridge and subway connections to most of the MTR and KCR stations. We shall continue to promote this idea to ensure that the rail stations are accessible by foot to major residential and commercial areas in the vicinity.
We also intend to promote:-
(a) pedestrian connections with other non-rail based public transport facilities, such as bus and public light bus terminus, ferry piers and tram stations, as well as
(b) co-location of public transport interchanges with railway stations to facilitate convenient and comfortable interchange from railway to other modes of public transport.
Apart from promoting pedestrian access to public transport, we also intend to promote walking within the local community through better land use and pedestrian planning. This would allow most people to live or work within walking distance of a wide range of local services, such as shops, schools, recreation and other community facilities.
Elevated walkways and underground pedestrian links should be more commonly used to provide links between railway stations, commercial areas, shopping arcades and high-density residential areas. The installation of escalators and travellators can also help to enhance these linkages. In Japan, they have built many underground shopping streets. We see the potential to develop the same in Hong Kong.
We should create more vehicle-free pedestrian streets, squares and plazas in highly congested areas. These are very common in overseas cities, particularly in shopping areas and tourists destinations. The pedestrianised areas can also be used for other activities, such as outdoor performance and alfresco dining, to enhance the vibrancy of these areas.
Street beautification is another important feature. This includes more attractive paving, better design of seating facilities, railings and street lights, clearer signage and more landscaping works. In fact, we have already started to implement this concept in some of the more popular areas, such as Tsim Sha Tsui and Causeway Bay. But we still have a long way to go.
In urban areas which have the potential for renewal and redevelopment, opportunities should be taken to plan comprehensive pedestrian network and to enhance the pedestrian environment within the area. Besides, when considering the plans of new buildings and developments, we can also consider dedicating part of the building lots for pedestrian passage, pavement and public areas in order to enhance pedestrian environment.
There are, indeed, many innovative ideas to create a better environment for the pedestrians. The Planning Department has commenced a study on Planning for Pedestrians a few months ago, and these are some of the initial ideas derived from the study.
We are all pedestrians. The success of pedestrian planning requires the full participation of everyone in Hong Kong. My hope is that in future, we will not only do more walking in Hong Kong, but enjoy walking more as well.
End/Monday, January 14, 2002