Date
21 October 2019
Building more bicycle lanes with direct connection to the public transportation network will encourage more people to take up biking as a major mode of transport.  Photo: CNSA
Building more bicycle lanes with direct connection to the public transportation network will encourage more people to take up biking as a major mode of transport. Photo: CNSA

Cycling to work in Hong Kong

How attractive is Hong Kong from the viewpoint of startups? Real estate services provider Savills assessed 30 cities from around the world with criteria ranging from the volume of inward venture capital investment to the cost of a cup of white coffee in order to establish which cities are the most attractive homes for tech companies and are therefore magnets for talent. According to the overall mobility ranking of its Tech Cities Index, London ranks first, thanks to its transport innovations and an urban environment that is conducive for cycling and walking.

For Hong Kong, cycling is only a recreational activity, but it is actually a most environmentally friendly transport mode. For a 10-kilometer ride, a private car emits 1.87 liters of carbon dioxide, a bus emits 0.19, MTR emits 0.13, while cycling has zero emissions.

Residents have long been lamenting the discontinuous cycling tracks in the New Territories, whereas urban roads are not suitable for cycling as they are narrow and congested with cars. It is almost impossible to add bicycle tracks in urban areas. Many local cyclists can only envy their overseas counterparts.

In the United Kingdom, for example, the Cycle to Work Scheme was launched in 1999 to encourage employers to provide employees with 12-month interest-free loans to buy bicycles. With tax concession, the cost of a bicycle was reduced by more than 30 percent. The scheme also helps employers save 13 percent of the insurance contribution. According to a report issued in 2016, more than 750,000 people cycle to work in England and Wales.

Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, is also famous for cycling. As early as the 1960s, there were already designated pedestrian- and bicycle-only areas. Currently, combined bicycle tracks amount to nearly 400 kilometers, and half of the residents travel by bicycle on a daily basis. Traffic lights on the main roads are synchronized with the speed of bicycles. It has become the most bicycle-friendly city.

In busy New York City, the designation of bicycle lanes helped reduce traffic accidents by 17 percent, while pedestrian accidents were also reduced by 22 percent, although the average driving speed of vehicles had remained the same.

However, urban roads in Copenhagen and New York are relatively wider, and the competition between pedestrians and vehicles may not be as severe as in Hong Kong.

Singapore should be similar to our situation. I recently read an article in the Straits Times on why Singapore is not a cycling country. It is not difficult for Hong Kong people to find the similarities:

1) Insufficient land, it is difficult to add cycling tracks;

2) Motorists generally do not respect cyclists;

3) Wet weather not suitable for cycling to work; and

4) Lack of parking facilities for bicycles.

However, Singapore is determined to make a change. The country launched a campaign called WCR (walk, cycle, ride), which involves walking, cycling and using public transport (including shared cars). In 2016, WCR accounted for over 70 percent of total travel mode during peak hours.

Last year, the Land Transport Authority conducted a public consultation on mobility planning. It proposed eight strategies, such as linking bicycle tracks and providing direct connection to public transportation, so as to reduce road mileage and make more land available for community facilities.

In Hong Kong, according to the 2016 census, more than half of Hong Kong Island residents (nearly 360,000 people) work on the Island, and one-sixth of employees in Hong Kong work in the same district where they reside, a situation that forms a strong case for commuting by bicycle.

I am glad that in the latest budget, the government has earmarked funding for a 2-kilometer pedestrian board road with cycling track in a section of the Eastern Corridor, a highway that links the eastern part of the Island with central business districts. More cycling tracks are also planned in the urban area, including a 13-km track at the former site of Kai Tak airport.

Cycling is both environmentally friendly and good for health. I hope the community and the government can actively promote biking and improve the existing bicycle support measures to give Hong Kong people one more mobility option.

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RT/CG

Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong