It's time to take cycling seriously in Hong Kong

Forwarded from Martin Turner’s post on the massridehk Yahoo group mail:

[i]"[b]For the second time in a month, SCMP has a strong leader calling on the government to promote cycling as transport on the roads, saying “A huge shift in thinking is obviously needed.”. (Both items were generated by SCMP editors, not prompted by HKCAll or anyone else.)

Can you write a follow-up letter, to help build on this momentum? Agree or expand on the ideas, just keep cycling in the public eye when we have the chance.[/b]"
It’s time to take cycling seriously in Hong Kong

[i]SCMP Leader
1 Aug 2010

A form of transport that promotes a healthy lifestyle, emits zero air pollution, uses little road space and rarely leads to serious accidents would surely be embraced by any government. These are the well-documented benefits of bicycles, and enlightened cities the world over are increasingly making room for them in plans and policies. They would surely ease Hong Kong’s traffic congestion, smog, stress and increasing obesity, yet authorities have taken quite the opposite tack. Instead of encouraging cyclists, they’re going out of their way to keep them off the streets.

Our government’s position is clear. It has openly stated that cycling is a recreational activity, not a viable alternative to trains, buses and cars. It doesn’t provide cycling lanes on roads, makes little effort to link existing paths and leaves few legal parking spaces in public areas. As this newspaper reported last Sunday, thousands of bikes are annually confiscated for being illegally parked; the total was 10,846 last year. Such an approach is abhorrent to governments elsewhere that are more sensitive to the needs and demands of their citizens. European and North American cities have over the past two decades been making more space for cyclists, most notably across Germany and in the US city of Portland, and famously in the Dutch city of Amsterdam, where 40 per cent of traffic is on two wheels. The success of Paris’ public bike rental programme, Velib, has been such that variations have sprouted globally; one in Mexico City has proved immensely popular, despite smog, bad drivers and thin air. London will launch its version on Friday.

It’s easy to see why authorities here aren’t interested in Hong Kong developing a cycling culture. Infrastructure is a core part of the government’s development strategy; the highways, bridges and tunnels it builds for traffic keep revenue flowing and create jobs. Senior civil servants in relevant bureaus and departments can justify their existence by coming up with such ideas. And then there’s the reality that the high cost of registering, fuelling and maintaining a car makes owning one a status symbol in our materialistic society. The high taxes associated with vehicle ownership make officials deaf to calls for better cycling facilities. Well-worn excuses are given for why cycling isn’t a transport option. Our roads are too narrow and not suited to bicycles, we’re told; that makes riding a bike dangerous. Another reason is that our climate is hot and humid in summer. It’s even been stated that roadside air pollution makes the option unhealthy. These aren’t valid claims for the Mexico City businessman who straps his briefcase onto the back of a rental bike and rides to work through grid-locked traffic or the Barcelona teacher and her students who cycle to school.

A huge shift in thinking is obviously needed. Cycling is not a commuting alternative, but it has a part to play in the government’s transport strategy. Bikes are well suited to the new towns of the New Territories, for travel within districts and on the outlying islands. They should be encouraged for road use through the provision of necessary facilities, not treated as merely for recreation. Little data is available on cycling in Hong Kong. There aren’t any official figures on the number of bicycles, cyclists and daily bike trips. It’s not clear how many people would take to two wheels instead of four given the right conditions. Independent assessment of such information is a perfect starting point for a government that claims to be working for our best interests.[/i]