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Pedal power

  • Author:HK Edition
  • Release on:2015-10-23
They're fighting an uphill battle but an increasing number of cycling enthusiasts are mustering support for a campaign to make Hong Kong a more 'bicycle-friendly?city. Michelle Fei reports.

Riding a bicycle to work, a rather common practice in many countries, proved an "out-of-reach dream" for 32-year-old Hongkonger King Lee.

"I found this quite ironic that on one hand, this city was famous for its convenient transportation; on the other hand, a local resident like me could never get a chance to use the most fundamental transportation, a bicycle, to go to work," said Lee.

A "no-car working class" individual, Lee often becomes exhausted shuttling between different transportation links, or despairing through morning rush hour traffic jams on his way to his office in Central.

"If I could use a bicycle on Hong Kong Island, I could save all that time waiting in the endless vehicle queue, save some money and get more exercise as well," said Lee.

Hong Kong is a metropolitan city with a well developed road network and public transportation system, consisting of franchised buses, private cars, minibuses, taxis, trams and ferries, etc. However, based on road safety considerations, the bicycle is a minor transportation mode which the government actively discourages from use in urban areas.

As of 2009, there were 158.2 kilometers of cycle tracks in Hong Kong and almost none were located in urban areas, except for a pathetically inadequate 0.6-kilometer track in southern Hong Kong Island, according to the Transport and Housing Bureau.
"Cycling is generally perceived as a sports or recreational activity, common in the new towns and rural areas, rather than major transportation," said Professor Beckey Loo, an expert in Transportation Geography at the Department of Geography of the University of Hong Kong.

"Hong Kong is diverse both in geographic and urban design. It could be very hard to ride to the peak but it also could be easy to cycle in territories like Yuen Long," said Loo. She also pointed out, the city is not 100 percent geographically suitable for cycling.

The hard reality didn't kill people's enthusiasm for promoting cycling as a viable transportation option in the city's bustling business areas.

On September 19, more than 80,000 bicycles flocked to the city's landmark Legislative Council Building to join an anti-climate-change cycling campaign called Car Free Cycling Parade. The objective was to promote the transformation of urban spaces into vehicle-free zones for pedestrians and cyclists.

"I believe cycling is a greener way to live that can help us combat climate change, particularly, to control the sky-high carbon-dioxide emission on the road sides," said Blossom Valiente, a young Filipino who works at a local company.

Green Peace, which initialed the Car Free Cycling Parade in 2009, in support of International Car Free Day, records significantly increased enthusiasm towards cycling as means of transportation.

"The city showed a strong and growing demand for cycling on Hong Kong Island, to cut back on the sky-high carbon emission at the road side in heavy-traffic areas like Central and Causeway Bay," said a spokesman for Green Peace. He cited figures showing that the number of participants in 2010 was eight times higher than in 2009.

Vehicle emissions, which make up 20 percent of the world's total greenhouse gases, are dense in Hong Kong. Over 430,000 registered private cars in the city generate 3,427 tons of carbon emissions every day, according to Green Peace.

Hong Kong also has one of the highest vehicle densities in the world, averaging 275 licensed vehicles for every kilometer of road. The topography makes it increasingly difficult to provide additional road capacity in the heavily built-up areas, according to the Transportation Department.
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Winnie Ng Wai-ling, a middle-aged Lantau resident, also a campaigner for Car Free Day, uses the cycle tracks on Lantau. She also rides to work from time to time. "Riding to work not only saves me a lot transportation expense but also helps me to warm up for a full day's work," said Ng.

Recalling her last experience cycling in Central, her features revealed lingering fears as she shook her head.

"That was terrible, almost like suicide," said Ng, describing her cycling in Central as "a lamb running with a group of wolves" with no lane separation for bicycles.

"You know you will be the first casualty whenever there is an accident thus you have to be highly-focused and riding extremely carefully," added Ng, showing no worries about the intense carbon-dioxide emissions on the road side. She believes, "if more people cycle on the road, less emission will be breathed in". "Someone has to be the first crab eater," she said.

Evidence already has shown that danger on the road doesn't scare away the city's cycling crowd.

A team of five cyclists, two from Tai Po, two from Hong Kong Island and one from Tseung Kwan O, are quietly leading the latest trend in the town: cycling around Hong Kong Island around midnight.

The five cyclists usually carry out their mid-night adventures on Sunday nights, when the fewest number of cars are on the road. Starting from North Point, the team rides toward Shau Kei Wan, then to Stanley, a turn at Repulse Bay and then crosses the tunnel to Aberdeen, moving on to Sai Wan, Sheung Wan and finally reaching Central. The whole 42.45-kilometer-long journey takes about 2.5 hours.

"Cycling at mid-night sounds a bit crazy but the city really doesn't give us enough facilities to have a smooth ride on roads in the day time," said Doris Chan, a team member who started cycling two years ago.

Chan called for more support from other mass transportation like the MTR and franchised buses, where people with bicycles are not allowed to board because it would inconvenience other passengers.

"It's understandable for buses of busy lines to reject us, but how can the airport bus, which allows big-sized luggage to get on, say no to bicycles even if they are foldable," said Chan.

Meanwhile, Professor Loo urges more attention be paid to cycling safety.

"Bicycle safety is often neglected as a road safety issue in societies where bicycles are a minor transport mode," said Professor Loo.

From 1993 to 2007, bicycle crashes have become an increasingly acute road safety problem in Hong Kong. Nearly five thousand bicycle crashes were recorded in the Traffic Accident Database System from 2005 to 2007. About 40 percent occurred on Saturdays and Sundays when cycling tracks in New Territories are loaded with cyclists, according to Loo.

"The fact that the majority of the fatal cases involved bicycle-motor vehicle crashes and unsafe driving behavior of the cyclists on public roads points to a need to educate all cyclists beyond the use of helmets or protective gear," said Loo.
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Filipino cyclists at the Car Free Cycling Parade on Sept 19. Michelle Fei / China Daily