Hong Kong needs to become cyclist-friendly

April 25, 2017 11:08
Lack of parking spaces and absence of continuous paved bike trail networks are hampering bike sharing initiatives in Hong Kong. Photo: Facebook

Public bicycle sharing is a feasible and environmentally sustainable idea which can promote regular workouts among our citizens while also helping reduce carbon emissions in our city.

Unfortunately, GoBee.Bike, an app-based bike sharing system founded by Raphael Cohen, has encountered quite a lot of difficulties since it was launched on April 20 in Hong Kong.

Apart from facing complaints from users about overcomplicated renting and deposit payment procedures, and bicycles being too heavy and without gearboxes, as well as the app's vulnerability to hackers, some of the bikes were found vandalized or even tossed into the Shing Mun River.

As far as the vandalism against some of the bikes provided by GoBee.Bike in Shatin is concerned, there is this question: were they just prank acts by some people, or was such mischief committed deliberately by angry bike rental store owners as a revenge on their new competitor?

If it is the latter case, our law enforcement must waste no time in bringing the guilty to justice.

Now, as the bike-sharing initiative got off to a bad start in Hong Kong despite such systems being huge successes in many other cities in the world, we need to ponder over this: is our city bike-friendly enough to allow online bike sharing platforms to operate successfully here?

According to a study conducted by the British architecture firm "Make Architects" in May 2016, Hong Kong is the least bike-friendly city among the 12 international cities that were studied. When it comes to government policies to facilitate the use of bicycles in people's daily lives as transportation means, Hong Kong not only lags behind New York and London, but also Singapore and Beijing as well, the study showed.

Two fundamental issues have to be addressed before any app-based bike sharing platform can truly thrive in Hong Kong. They are: 1) shortage of parking spaces for bikes, and 2) the lack of a continuous and uninterrupted paved bike trail network in our city.

Sadly, it appears there is still a long way to go before these issues can be truly resolved, given the fact that over the years bikes and cyclists have always taken a backseat in the overall transport policy of Hong Kong.

As far as parking spaces are concerned, currently there are only around 57,700 public parking spaces for bikes in our city, with the overwhelming majority of them being scattered across the New Territories.

As a result, finding a legal place to park bikes is always an arduous task for cyclists in this city. The severe lack of bike parking spaces in our urban areas in fact has almost made it impossible for online bike sharing platforms like GoBee.Bike to extend their service area beyond New Territories.

Another major issue hampering the use of bicycles as a means of transportation in Hong Kong is that we don't have a continuous and uninterrupted paved bicycle route network in the city.

Back in 2008, the administration proposed to build a so-called "super bike trail" that would connect Tsuen Wan, Tuen Mun, Sheung Shui, Tai Wai and Sai Kung in the New Territories.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying brought up the proposal again in this year's Policy Address, in which he vowed to build a "super bicycle trail" that would, once completed, stretch over 82 kilometers and connect the eastern and western New Territories.

However, such plans still exist largely only on paper. For example, construction work of the trail that connects Tsuen Wan and Tuen Mun was supposed to begin in 2011 and due to be completed in 2014. However, even to this day the work hasn't started at all.

Unless the government is truly committed to building a bike-friendly environment in Hong Kong, cyclists in our city will continue to have a hard time in the foreseeable future.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 24

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal