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By Iverson Ng
HONG KONG- Hong Kong’s “Walking Movement” has officially been kick-started after the 5-day global conference Walk21 took place at Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai.
With 156 experts gathered from 38 countries, this conference was truly a global collaborative platform to come up with ideas of how to improve walkability of this international finance hub.
Why the conference came to Hong Kong, should be a surprise to none.
With a total area of 1100 square kilometres, this city has less than 1/4 developed land while as much as 40% of this metropolis is preserved as country parks and nature reserves.
Stunning as it may sound, living within some 1,300 skyscrapers standing taller than 100m out of almost 8,000 buildings according to the global provider of building information Emporis, Hong Kongers struggle to live with a population density of almost 6,700 persons per square kilometre.
Among the 18 districts in Hong Kong, the most densely populated district goes is Kwun Tong, which has some 57,000 persons per square kilometre.
Statistically speaking, Hong Kong is a notable city that values walkability as a tool for commuting when financial services, trading and logistics, tourism and professional and producer services are four key industries.
Looking beyond the prosperous side of this packed city, though, Hong Kong still faces several challenges–heavy reliance on railways, redevelopment projects and lack of private car regulations–to improve walkability.
While both Hong Kong and the Swedish capital Stockholm, for example share similar world-class railway systems operated by the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) Corporation, the railway in Hong Kong seems to be overloaded–on average about 4.7 million passengers taking the MTR everyday.
As a Legislative Council report shows, the maximum capacity of the carriages in the East Rail Line and Ma On Shan Rail Line is or above 100% during the rush hour.
Several transit stations such as Amiralty, Mong Kok, and Yau Tong are packed with people getting on and off from work, making people hard to transit from one location to another location smoothly.
Like what Civic Exchange CEO Maura Wong suggested in the conference, Hong Kongers spend roughly 50 minutes commuting on average, but they tend to spend only 5 minutes walking. Perhaps we should consider walking as a lifestyle instead of making it as a function for commuting.
Even though the MTR Corporation will finish its 4 strategic rail extensions including West Island Line, Shatin to Central Link, Kwun Tong Line Extension and South Island Line (East) in the foreseeable years, to improve walkability in Hong Kong, the uncontrollably frequent road traffic doesn’t just make it harder to extend more accessible walkways for pedestrians, but also discourages people to ride bikes for work and leisure.
Currently, there are as many as 530,000 licensed private cars, making up more than 2/3 of all vehicles this year, according to the HKSAR government fact sheet.
Watch: The Welcome Video to Walk21
Not only does it exceed the number of private cars in 2020 predicted by the government in 2007, but it also contributes one of the reasons why the traffic congestion is prominently serious everyday.
The government should give incentives to encourage private car owners to take public transport instead.
While the Walk21 conference might not make a short term impact on the above issues, it is still likely to help usher in a gradual change if Walk21’s main themes–walking between layers, walking with multiple benefits, walking smart, and walking together–can spread out to the general public.
Let’s hope these change help Hong Kong become the city we all want it to be.
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Cover Photo Credit: Walk21/ Facebook