22 April 2019
Government annual spending on road maintenance surged 59 percent between 1998 and 2016. Photo: HKEJ
Government annual spending on road maintenance surged 59 percent between 1998 and 2016. Photo: HKEJ

Time to rethink our policy on road traffic

Compared with other policy issues such as housing, land and education, transport is a relatively less discussed subject among the four chief executive candidates in their campaigns, even though they might all have personally experienced getting stuck in traffic one way or another.

Traffic congestion has almost reached the breaking point thanks to the government’s tunnel vision and lack of long-term strategic planning.

Ironically, even though the government has been spending tens of billions of dollars fixing and maintaining our roads over the past 20 years, up from HK$860 million in 1998 to HK$1.37 billion in 2016, the problem of traffic jams has continued to deteriorate.

There are more than 800,000 registered vehicles in Hong Kong. To put that in perspective, that’s 348 cars per kilometer on our roads, and their number is continually on the rise.

To make things worse, the number of vehicles traveling across the border has increased five times since 1999.

The continued increase in the number of vehicles has not only exacerbated traffic congestion but also brought a huge burden on public finances as the government has to spend billions of dollars maintaining the condition of our overloaded roads.

So what can we do to ease traffic congestion?

Perhaps we can learn from the experience of the US city of Portland and build more biking routes rather than roads and motorways to connect our new towns in the New Territories.

Biking routes are not only much cheaper to maintain but can also promote the use of bicycles to reduce carbon emissions.

The government can also try to reduce our reliance on cars by promoting carpooling and facilitating a more bike-friendly environment.

In fact, traffic congestion is not just the result of having too many cars but too few roads.

It shows a far more deep-rooted and fundamental problem, which is the obsession with the model of infrastructure-led economic development among our decision-makers. This has led to endless pollution and environmental destruction.

Unless the government can adopt a new mindset and conducts a thorough review of our transport policy, Hong Kong will only find itself stuck in a vicious circle.

The full article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 20

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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A member of Shadow Long Term Housing Strategy Steering Committee, a non-governmental organization.

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