Saturday, August 26, 2006

Holistic approach needed on harbour and traffic

Never in the history of Hong Kong has a development issue been so hotly debated as the plan for Victoria Harbour. The future shape of this city's greatest asset is one that has drawn passionate comments from a cross- section of the community.

Tempers have flared over the government's plan to reclaim a long stretch of the coast from Central to Causeway Bay and to build a new government HQ at the Tamar site.

The debate continues with yesterday's publication of a revised plan for the Central-Wan Chai bypass. The plan represents the government's latest efforts to try to build a road tunnel under newly reclaimed land between Central and Causeway Bay without filling up too much of our beautiful harbour.

At first glance, the new plan is an improvement over the previous one. The five precincts with distinct themes - arts and culture, water park, water recreation, heritage and leisure and recreation - should enhance the aesthetic appeal of what will be the harbour's longest promenade. But the devil could be in the details. We urge all those who care about how this important strip of land should look to study the plan and see if there is room for improvement.

The government needs to be aware that there are still critics who are sceptical of the need for the bypass as a means of relieving congestion on existing roads along the waterfront.

The critics contend that every new road will eventually become saturated with traffic, so building more roads will not solve the problem. They argue that congestion can only be alleviated by a comprehensive traffic-management scheme that includes road pricing and more use of public transport.

A major cause of traffic snarls along the waterfront from Central to Causeway Bay is the long queues of vehicles making their way to Kowloon through the Cross-Harbour Tunnel. Unless some of this traffic is redirected to other tunnels by manipulating the tolls of all three harbour crossings, the Central-Wan Chai bypass will not necessarily relieve congestion in the area. And unless commercial developments on the newly reclaimed land are capped, congestion will only pile up.

The government's plan for the waterfront has gone so far down the track that it might be unrealistic to expect it to change course now. Yet, it is not a foregone conclusion that the Central bypass project will get the necessary funding approval from legislators. If the government wants to avoid another ugly showdown with its detractors over the issue, it will have to continue to adopt an open mind to listen to criticism and try to accommodate constructive suggestions as much as possible.

Apart from drawing up a blueprint for a beautiful waterfront, developing a comprehensive traffic plan for the area might be just what it needs to win community approval of this controversial project. 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.