Saturday, August 12, 2006

Why more roads are not the answer to traffic congestion

In his article, "In defence of more roads" (July 24), Leung Kong-yui argues that the congestion in Central will continue to get worse without a new road link being built on the Central harbourfront. I disagree.

Every driver knows that, depending on the time of the day, traffic congestion on the Gloucester Road-Connaught Road corridor is caused by the stacking of traffic trying to enter the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, Wan Chai, Causeway Bay, Mid-Levels and Central.

The proposed Central-Wan Chai bypass will allow through traffic - a small group of the current corridor users - to bypass the traffic jams. This will include officials working in the new government offices at the Tamar site, next to the future slip roads into the bypass. More importantly, the bypass will tempt more traffic to enter the adjoining areas, resulting in even bigger traffic jams.

Mr Leung further concludes that "roads are only built when economic activity needs them" and that "there is no need to construct any if there is no demand". There is a problem in getting support for roads like the P2 - a six-lane highway running from the Airport Express station past the convention centre to join existing roads - and Central-Wan Chai bypass. It is that the government and experts have yet to demonstrate that everything possible has been done to avoid building more surface road infrastructure on the harbourfront, today and in the future.

For the past 150 years, we have responded to economic growth and the associated need for supporting infrastructure and properties with harbour reclamation.

In 1997, the community agreed on the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance, formally ending the formation of new land through reclamation. Moreover, research has shown that the public wants to use the last available stretches of harbourfront land for more open space and leisure facilities, rather than to generate government revenue with developments and roads (which would allow more development in adjoining areas).

The government has yet to respond to this disruption in its operating environment, as is demonstrated by its push for new developments in Central, for its own use and for sale, which would also generate more traffic and use up the entire capacity of the new roads by 2016.

That is hardly a sustainable plan. The question for harbour, town and transport planners is, therefore, how to facilitate economic growth while safeguarding the finite and scarce land resource around the harbour.

What strategies, policy changes and funding will be put in place to ensure a sustainable development plan for the next 30, 50 and 100 years?

Short of extreme development controls on private property development, the answers are far-reaching and difficult.

These include, among others: reducing reliance on surface transport infrastructure; building more underground facilities for vehicles; prioritising and financing alternative modes of transport (that is, rail); spending more resources on traffic-management solutions; stemming property development around the harbour (and, instead, developing other areas); and, ultimately, reducing the government's dependency on land-sales revenues.

PAUL ZIMMERMAN, Causeway Bay is the premier information resource on Greater China. With a click, you will be able to access information on Business, Markets, Technology and Property in the territory. Bookmark for more insightful and timely updates on Hong Kong, China, Asia and the World. Voted the Best Online newspaper outside the US and brought to you by the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong's premier English language news source.