Speech by CS at Walk21 Hong Kong Conference (English only) (with photos/video)
Maura (Chief Executive Officer of Civic Exchange, Ms Maura Wong), Lisa (Co-chair of the Board of Civic Exchange, Ms Lisa Genasci), Jim (Founder and Director of Walk21, Mr Jim Walker), Fred (Chairman of the MTR Corporation Limited, Professor Frederick Ma), Anthony (Deputy Chairman of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, Mr Anthony Chow), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to join you today at the opening of the first-ever Walk21 Conference held in Asia. On behalf of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, may I extend a very warm welcome to you all. Welcome to Hong Kong, a very special and exciting city where you are going to practise what you preach, and that is to experience on foot.
Let me first congratulate Civic Exchange for putting together this Walk21 international conference in Hong Kong and assembling a large number of distinguished speakers and practitioners in city planning from many parts of the world. No wonder you need a five-day conference to accommodate the rich programmes and the generous sharing of best practices by speakers and delegates. Although the Government may not agree with the views of Civic Exchange, an independent public policy think tank, on every occasion, I am pleased to say that we are a strong supporter of its mission in promoting walkability in Hong Kong. And, by the way, when I mentioned that the Government does not on every occasion agree with Civic Exchange, it doesn't mean that I am saying “we are right and they are wrong”. It's just simply because think tanks and governments all over the world have different considerations. And to tell you the difference, I am not the perfect person because my lifelong career is in the Government, but the founder of Civic Exchange, Christine Loh, will be the best person to articulate the differences, because being the founder of Civic Exchange, a think tank, she is now our Under Secretary for the Environment.
Three policy bureaux and various government departments are, along with business chambers and professional institutions supporting organisations of this Walk21 Conference. Several of my senior colleagues will also take part in the subsequent proceedings to share the Hong Kong experience.
As the world's skyscraper city characterised by high pedestrian flows, heavy traffic and ever-increasing commercial and leisure activities, Hong Kong is faced with the challenge of making our city more walkable and more pleasant to walk. While our high-density and compact urban development has already over the years benefited from a network of footbridges, walkways, lifts and escalators to improve mobility, there is rising public aspiration for a greener transport environment and a more convenient and comfortable pedestrian network linking together developments in the same area, public transport nodes and other existing pedestrian facilities. To meet that aspiration, city planners, transport officials and policymakers have to come up with new, innovative and creative solutions, leveraging on technology and partnership.
As we embark on this week-long Conference on walkability, let me share three observations on the subject with you.
The first one is that walkability is a key element for sustainable cities. A walkable city is becoming a vision shared by more and more people, who can see new social, environmental and economic benefits through re-connecting themselves to the most original form of mobility, and that is walking. At the same time, the call is echoed by many governments preparing for climate change and sustainability challenges. They put walkability high on their agenda. This is where we are - seeking a meeting of minds both bottom-up and top-down, facilitating an intersection of multiple disciplines, and embracing partnership opportunities.
In Hong Kong, it has been part of our policy to provide good pedestrian connections to encourage people to cover the “first mile” and “last mile” by walking when accessing our extensive public transport system. These come in various forms like footpaths, elevated walkways, covered walkways at grade and subways. We have introduced several pedestrianisation or traffic-calming schemes, and invigorated harbourfronts and riversides to entice people to walk.
Along this vision, since the present-term Government came to office in July 2012, we have pushed ahead with a Universal Accessibility Programme involving more than 200 projects now in progress to make public walkways barrier-free and more inclusive, especially for elderly persons and people with disabilities. In the light of an ageing population, the Chief Executive's 2016 Policy Address has set out ways to further improve the pedestrian environment for the benefit of all, especially the elderly.
Nowadays, we look not only to reducing vehicle usage, but also to enhancing interaction in the neighbourhood, promoting community-building and a healthier society. This is part and parcel of the Government's people-based planning strategy.
We seek to make walking not only more convenient but also more enjoyable. Despite our very busy road traffic, Hong Kong's roadside air quality has been improving. Over the past five years, the roadside concentrations of major air pollutants, namely respirable suspended particulates, fine suspended particulates, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide have all reduced by some 20 to 30 per cent.
This is the outcome of hard work to improve roadside air quality through a host of measures to control emissions from vehicles. Notably, we are phasing out some 82 000 pre-Euro IV diesel commercial vehicles by the end of 2019 involving ex-gratia payments up to about HK$11.4 billion. So far more than half of these older and more polluting vehicles have already been retired. Last year we have set up "franchised bus low emission zones" in three busy corridors in the centre of the city. We are subsidising the franchised bus companies to retrofit older buses with selective catalytic reduction devices to upgrade their emission performance to Euro IV or above level. We also subsidise them to test out electric vehicles - electric buses and hybrid buses.
My second observation is that walkability is more than putting paths in place. It is about paradigm shift in many ways.
First, mindset change. Let me give you an example. In the past, government departments planned for lifts attached to public footbridges or subways based on expected usage, which was calculated on the basis of rigid numerical criteria. When this Government took office, in view of our ageing society, we launched the Universal Accessibility Programme with a bottom-up approach. We invited members of the public to propose grade-separated walkways for retrofitting with lifts, so that those in need could move around the community with greater ease.
We then invited each of our 18 District Councils to nominate from the public proposals received three walkways in its district for priority implementation of lift retrofitting works. A total of 57 priority items have come out from this process. Information on expected pedestrian usage is only one of the considerations. In fact, in response to an Audit Value-For-Money study on this subject, we made it clear that we are moving away from justifying these enhanced accessibility facilities on the basis of numbers. "Putting people first" becomes a guiding principle.
The new approach has been working well. Indeed later this year, we are going to invite the 18 District Councils to nominate another three existing walkways in each district for the second phase of the programme.
Paradigm shift is also about finding innovative ways to break through existing constraints.
This year we have introduced a new incentive scheme, initially to be taken forward in the pilot area in Kowloon East. Under this scheme, the land premium for lease modification would be waived if it relates to the construction of footbridges or subways connecting private developments in accordance with the planned pedestrian network benefitting the wider community. Proposals in other districts that facilitate pedestrians are also welcomed.
Waiving land premium would provide a strong incentive for private developers or landowners to design and construct the pedestrian links earlier than otherwise to be completed by the Government. The public could then enjoy early provision of a more comprehensive pedestrian network with better connectivity and walkability. By realising connections among private developments, the need to provide landings, staircases and lifts on public footpaths could also be minimised, reducing the public space affected. The private sector has indicated strong interest in this win-win concept.
Another initiative concerns how to improve access to our beautiful harbourfront. It is the vision of the Harbourfront Commission and the Government to enhance Victoria Harbour and the harbourfront areas to become an attractive, vibrant, accessible and sustainable world-class asset - a harbour for the people and a harbour of vitality.
However, existing buildings and developments sometimes make it difficult to build pedestrian networks connecting harbourfront areas with the hinterland. An innovative proposal we have come up with is a 2-kilometre-long boardwalk underneath a highway viaduct, the Island Eastern Corridor. Such boardwalk, if built, will rise above from existing constraints and improve public accessibility to this part of the harbourfront.
Meanwhile, the Government is reviewing the territorial development strategy for Hong Kong under the "Hong Kong 2030+: Towards a Planning Vision and Strategy Transcending 2030". We will place emphasis on promoting walking and a public realm that befits this purpose. This would call for a more holistic and open mindset in constructing and reinventing our public realm in future.
My third, and last, observation is that the endowments of different cities make it possible for walkability to be realised in many different ways. Technology is one way to enable smart mobility and smart engagement of walkers. Transformative urban and transport planning is another way to make a city more walkable by design. Innovative engineering has opened up new solutions to help overcome hilly terrains or waterbodies. Social research could bring insight on how walking also functions as a place-making and community-building tool, and so on.
For Hong Kong, a compact layered city that handles more than 14 million commuter trips on vehicles a day, making progress in walkability is no small challenge. In the past we tended to rely on a vehicular-based transport approach and our community cared more for the interests of passengers and car drivers. We also had to take into account space limitations, competing demands and planning requirements. Now, we are opening up new planning horizons, forging new community awareness and consensus to strike a better balance between pedestrian and vehicular mobility needs. We are using Kowloon East as a pilot area to experiment with Smart City features, including of course Smart Mobility.
Finally, cities will not be walkable if they are not safe. For those of you who have read Jane Jacobs' "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" published over half a century ago, one of the first few chapters was on sidewalks and safety. And the interesting thing is not just that cities are more walkable because they are safe. Indeed, vice versa is also true. The cities are safer if they are more walkable. So on this score, I am very proud to say that Hong Kong is one of safest cities in the world. Last year, our crime rate expressed in the number of crimes, big and small, per 100 000 population was 910. This is the lowest since 1972. For those of you who want some global comparisons - I know Jim comes from London - the similar crime rate in London is nine times of Hong Kong. And if we do have a friend from France, comparing to Paris our rate is one-thirteenth of Paris. Indeed, in my regular encounters with friends from overseas chambers and the consular community in Hong Kong, they invariably mention one big attraction to come and live and work in Hong Kong is that they do not have to worry at all when their children, especially daughters, go out to meet friends at night.
In the coming days of this Conference, we are going to share with you our walkability story. We are also eager to learn from your experiences, in particular your efforts in overcoming physical, conceptual and even political hurdles.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am very glad to see Walk21 coming to Hong Kong. The Conference provides a focal point not only for the participants, but also for the Hong Kong community at large, to engage in all-round dialogues and soul-searching on the promotion of a more walkable environment.
On this ending note, I wish you a most fruitful conference and happy walking to you all. Thank you very much.
Ends/Monday, October 3, 2016
Issued at HKT 18:15
Issued at HKT 18:15