Roadside pollution levels in Hong Kong have never reached WHO standards in the last decades, and nitrogen dioxide levels are double of WHO requirements, and are severely affecting the health of Hong Kong citizens. The extreme number of vehicles is one of the major factors in Hong Kong’s traffic problems, causing serious congestions, and aggravating vehicle emissions. The high rises and skyscrapers on the frantic streets of Hong Kong make it difficult for roadside pollutants to dissipate, exposing the public to high levels of air pollution.

Central’s traffic problems are extremely serious, with the roads overflowing with viscous traffic. Average vehicle speeds on Pedder Street in Central in the last ten years have mirrored those of the rest of the busy business district, recording an average of four to eight kilometers per hour – walking speed. And all the pollution levels within in the district are two times higher than local standards. Controlling Central’s number of parking spaces is closely related to the concept of the electronic pricing schemes, both with the primary goal to control the flow of cars going into the district, which will in turn improve traffic congestion and air pollution.

The loss of the Murray Road parking spaces doesn’t mean authorities should be looking for another address to set up shops, but instead should be setting up Park and Ride facilities in the near vicinity, to encourage drivers not to drive their cars onto the congested roads of Central. Instead, these facilities will urge drivers to take the subway or buses, or other forms of public transportation into the city center. The implementation of these facilities will reduce the vehicle number within the district, and will also allay traffic congestions and air pollution problems. However, the issue of parking policy shouldn’t be limited to discussions of individual parking spaces. Authorities and legislators should have a clear and complete vision for these issues, and should be discussing and planning strategies regarding the traffic and roads of Hong Kong. The speeds at which the number of vehicles are growing in our city are simply stunning. As of 2017 the number of registered vehicles has reached 820,000, and that of registered private cars has surpassed 540,000. To satisfy the endless growth of the number of vehicles, the land allocated to parking purposes has to be increased tenfold.

We researched the documents of the Transport and Housing Bureau’s reply to the Legislative Council, stating that there are almost 7,400,000 standard public rental flats that are now used as parking spaces for various vehicles (1). All parking spaces certainly cannot be converted into public housing flats, but these figures underscore the absurd land disparity in the city. Our residential and recreational demands are not even a match for our parking needs.

The Transport and Housing Bureau are a broken record: ‘Control the growing numbers of vehicles, improve traffic congestion’, but when it really comes to issues such as the distribution of parking spaces, it fails to deliver on actually reducing incoming traffic, and this failure causes major traffic problems. Take Paris for example. In order to reduce public use of vehicles, the government launched a policy to convert vehicle parking spaces into bicycle spaces, and also started charging for vehicle parking. In four years Paris reduced its total vehicle mileage by thirteen percent (2).  

To effectively reduce public vehicle use, besides the control of parking space distributions, authorities should also adjust private car parking fees close to market price, to discourage car owners from driving. As of right now, there are 33,611 roadside parking spaces in the city, with 15,680 free of charge, the other 17,931 otherwise. The price has long remained at two dollars every fifteen minutes, considerably cheaper than the twenty to thirty dollars an hour that the average parking lot charges, which very often has cars going around the block looking for the cheap roadside spot, increasing the load on the roads of Hong Kong.

American parking researcher Donald Shoup has pointed out that meandering vehicles on the lookout for a roadside spot make up a big portion of traffic, with the main reason being that                                     roadside parking spaces are much cheaper than parking in the average private parking lot, causing drivers to try to look for vacancies on the road, hoping to get lucky. He compiled 16 studies from London, Sydney and New York from 1927 to 2001 and found that every vehicle spends an average of eight minutes looking for roadside parking spaces, accounting for thirty percent of road traffic (3).

Of course, a city cannot be completely without parking spaces. We have noticed that in order to solve the common problem of traffic congestion, other major cities very often implement policies to create designated areas for trucks to load and unload goods. Unfortunately the local government has failed to follow suit, and has not done anything regarding the shortage of truck parking spaces, and resources are often allocated to private cars. Private cars make up most of the car population, but they do much more harm than good. Not only do they have low road efficiency, but also occupy the highest number of parking spaces. According to the latest figures released by the Transport and Housing Bureau, private cars take up eighty percent of parking spaces. However on the other hand, there is a serious shortage of truck parking spaces, with an average of three trucks fighting for the same spot, lining entire streets with rows of parked trucks.

We think that in order to improve roadside pollution and traffic problems within the city center, there must be a reduction of private car usage in business districts. To do that, a decrease in parking spaces and an increase in public parking fees would be much more effective than blindly adding highly demanded parking spaces. But most importantly, city planning and land allocation must be effectively distributed, to ensure citizens’ health and living quality. Within the city center, instead of allocating land for vehicle parking, the government would be better served to convert the land public housing or public recreational spaces, for the public to enjoy a healthy urban lifestyle and comfortable modes of transport.

 

Summary of Initiatives:

  • The loss of the Murray Road parking lot does not mean authorities should be looking for another address to set up shop, but instead should be setting up Park and Ride facilities in the near vicinity, to encourage drivers not to drive their cars onto the congested roads of Central. Instead, these facilities will urge drivers to take the subway or buses, or other forms of public transportation into the city center. The implementation of these facilities will reduce the vehicle number within the district, and will also allay traffic congestions and air pollution problems.

 

  • The issue of parking policy should not be limited to discussions of individual parking spaces. Authorities and legislators should have a clear and complete vision for these issues, and should be discussing and planning strategies regarding the traffic and roads of Hong Kong.
  • As of 2015, there are almost 7,400,000 standard public rental flats of land use that are now used as parking spaces for various vehicles, highlighting the absurd land disparity in the city. Our residential and recreational demands are not even a match for our parking needs.
  • In order to improve roadside pollution and traffic problems within the city center, there must be a reduction of private car usage in business districts. To do that, a decrease in parking spaces and an increase in public parking fees would be much more effective than blindly adding highly demanded parking spaces.
Story posted on
18th May, 2017

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