SCMP – Urban rhythm

Carine Lai, Project Manager – Several months ago, I predicted that the curtailment of the Mong Kok pedestrian zone’s hours would result in a traffic-choked, overcrowded nightmare. I was wrong.

It turns out that because the street is divided into three segments, each with one-way traffic going in the opposite direction to the neighbouring segment, it is unusable to through traffic. As a result, traffic volume is very low.

This has allowed the street to settle into a calmer and less congested rhythm. It has become a sort of social experiment, one which may have a groundbreaking impact on the way pedestrians and traffic are managed in Hong Kong.

On a recent weeknight visit to Sai Yeung Choi Street, the first thing I noticed was that people completely ignore the fact it is no longer a pedestrianonly street. They continue to use the full width of the street, strolling down the middle of the road in groups of five or six, and only moving aside when a car comes along.

While most of the stalls and street performers are gone (to the relief of nearby residents), a few sketch artists and fortune tellers, and a greater number of broadband and cable TV salesmen, can still be found lined up along the pavement or, in some cases, occupying parking spaces.

One local business continues to employ a man to wave an advertisement in the middle of the street, although he moves off to the side for cars.

The street has become a de facto “shared space” in which pedestrians and vehicles mix.

Most of this is technically illegal. Pedestrians are not allowed to cross a road anywhere within 15 metres of a marked crossing, except for on the crossing itself, nor are they allowed to linger on the road for any longer than necessary to cross it.

Yet, in spite of this, it all seems to work. Vehicle speeds are low, and pedestrians do not appear to feel threatened. During my visit, I did not see any drivers resort to using their horn to honk at pedestrians or displaying other aggressive behaviour.

The worst thing that could happen now is for someone in the Transport Department to declare the street unsafe and erect more railings to keep pedestrians off the road.

All this would do is encourage people to skirt around them to avoid the overcrowded pavements, encourage drivers to drive faster and irritate shoppers trying to cross the road.

International studies have shown that traditional traffic segregation measures are often counterproductive in busy urban environments as they goad pedestrians into taking risks and lull drivers into a false sense of complacency.

Instead, the government should reinforce what is happening. Sai Yeung Choi Street should be designated a pedestrian priority zone, in which pedestrians have the right of way over vehicles. A low speed limit of 20km/h should be introduced. The existing railings, which are currently ignored anyway, could be removed.

If successful, the strategy could be replicated in other busy shopping streets with low traffic volumes. Many other cities around the world have been adopting “shared space” schemes. It is fortuitous that Hong Kong has ended up with one by accident.

Civic Exchange newsletter – April 2014 Issue 2


Civic Exchange newsletter – April 2014 Issue 1




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Hong Kong needs an archives law

Civic Exchange has started conducting research on Hong Kong’s public records management since 2007. Last month, the Office of The Ombudsman has completed a direct investigation into Hong Kong’s public records management and archiving system, and made 15 recommendations to the HKSAR Government for improvement, including introduction of an archives law. Civic Exchange urges the HKSAR Government to enact an archives law in Hong Kong without further delay.

Civic Exchange’s research report, The Memory Hole: Why Hong Kong Needs an Archives Law (2011), examines why Hong Kong has not enacted a law akin to China’s Archives Law or Australia’s Archives Act to protect public documents from official tampering.

Article on HKEJ (28 March 2014) by Yan-yan Yip, CEO of Civic Exchange, comments on the public records management in Hong Kong. (Chinese only)

The following timeline shows the selected cases of poor records management in Hong Kong.

RTHK Radio 3 Backchat: Street Life and Management in Hong Kong

(24 March 2014) – Simon Ng, Head of Transport and Sustainability Research, on a RTHK Radio 3 programme, Backchat, talked about Hong Kong’s open space and street management. [Listen]


25 March 2014 - HKET – Mongkok pedestrianised zone, the potential shared space (By Carine Lai)
21 March 2014
– SCMP – Hong Kong can help curb illegal fishing on the high seas (By Wilson Lau)


SCMP – Catch of the day

Wilson Lau, Research and Project officer – The vast oceans belong to everyone, and we all have a right to consider how they should be used. This is the premise behind the work of the Global Ocean Commission, a relatively new collective of influential political figures from different continents who are bringing attention to the high seas – the 64 per cent of the world’s oceans that are not protected by national laws. (more…)

Civic Exchange newsletter – March 2014 Issue 2


SCMP – Shaky ground

Carine Lai, Project Manager – In the scramble to provide more housing, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has proposed to increase building densities across the city. According to a paper submitted by the Development Bureau to the Legislative Council at the end of January, development densities will rise by 20 per cent, except in the already extremely crowded parts of northern Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. (more…)

Civic Exchange newsletter – March 2014 Issue 1




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Seeking ways to tackle Hong Kong’s traffic congestion

(28 February 2014) – Simon Ng, Head of Transport and Sustainability Research, commented on different policy initiatives for easing Hong Kong’s traffic congestion, in a TVB current affairs programme, A Closer Look. [View programme] (Cantonese only)

Warsaw? Where next for the UN Climate Caravan?

(23 January 2014) – Civic Exchange, the Business Environment Council and the Climate Change Business Forum co-organised this event to provide an update on the 2013 UN Climate Conference in Warsaw. The speakers focused on how the private sector can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The event report which captures the highlights and presentations, is available on the Civic Exchange website. [Details]


21 February 2014 – SCMP – Second gear (By Bryan Suen)
10 February 2014 – CleanBiz.Asia – Turning the tide on the international shark fin trade (By Wilson Lau)


SCMP – Second gear
(Bryan Suen, Research and Project Officer) – Starting this month, the service life span of all newly registered diesel commercial vehicles is limited to just 15 years. Coupled with its plan to phase out older diesel vehicles, the government is determined and committed to improve roadside air quality.

This policy is part of a raft of incentives to tackle roadside emissions and protect public health. The ex gratia payment scheme to phase out pre-Euro IV diesel commercial vehicles starts on March 1, and will see more than 80,000 such vehicles off our roads by 2020. Together with the catalytic converter replacement scheme for LPG vehicles and the introduction of a new air quality health index, the plan underlines the government’s commendable determination to improve Hong Kong’s air quality. (more…)

Civic Exchange newsletter – February 2014 Issue 2


SCMP – Full worth

(Wilson Lau, Research & Project Officer) – Country park enclaves were a big issue last year. Some 54 pockets lacking a specific land-use classification were being assessed by the government. In this year’s policy address, the chief executive said it would seek to better protect ecologically important sites in private ownership through two measures: the management agreement scheme that enables approved non-governmental organisations to partner landowners in conserving the sites, and public-private partnerships. (more…)