Friday, 21 November 2014

good idea, poor execution

What is the Hong Kong government’s policy on cycling? At first glance, it would seem to be extremely positive; this extract is from a government website:
Cycling is a great way to enjoy Hong Kong – you will become fit and healthy. As a bonus, you will get to see the natural beauty all around us.
Unfortunately, if you were to dig a little deeper, you would find that the policy is deeply flawed. It seems to me that the government is anxious to segregate cyclists in their own little universe, even to the extent of squandering vast sums of money in the process.

This may seem an outrageous statement to make, so I should elaborate. The government is in the process of constructing a dedicated cycle track from Sheung Shui to Yuen Long. Work started during the summer, and if there was a consultation period beforehand, I missed it, because I was in the UK. As a regular cyclist, I would have objected.

The work that is currently underway follows the west bank of the river northwards from Sheung Shui, as shown on the following map, which I obtained from the website of the Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD). The section in question has been circled and labelled A (the grey sections indicate where work is in progress, while the parts of the proposed route where work hasn’t yet started are coloured pink).
The project forms part of the NT Cycle Track Network which connects local cycle track networks in various new towns and is mainly for recreation purpose. The works under this project comprise the construction of new cycle tracks of approximately 11 km long from Yuen Long to Sheung Shui together with the provision of supporting facilities.
CEDD website (italics added).

I have two questions. Why is the Drainage Services Department (DSD) access road being duplicated here? And why did work start with this section in the first place, when there is already a perfectly good DSD access road, which carries only local motor traffic and has regular speed bumps to deter speeding, while there are no safe options for cycling at present along the middle section of the proposed route? This is the basis of my contention that the government wants to keep recreational cycling apart from all other vehicular traffic. In fact, I can foresee a day when cycling on the access road instead of the new cycle track results in a ticket for the rider.

The following photographs show part of the access road, with the adjoining construction work. Note the big concrete retaining wall, the size of which can be measured by the worker in the first photo. I do wonder why this is needed, unless the plan is for the cycle track to go under the Sheung Yue River, which the access road crosses via a perfectly adequate bridge (behind the camera in the second photo). And what neither photo shows is the large number of trees that have been removed to make way for the cycle track.

Because work on this section is already underway, it will be completed before the section beyond the DSD access road, which means that recreational cyclists who were not already aware of cycling possibilities in this area will come here, reach the end and then be forced to turn back, which seems like a pointless exercise to me. Unless we’re careful, we could end up with the kind of mayhem that exists on the wide cycleway between Shatin and Taipo at weekends and on public holidays, when the system is clogged up by weekend cyclists who hire their bikes for the day but have no idea how to ride them. Perhaps such anarchic conditions already prevail in this area on Sundays, but I never go out cycling on Sundays, so I cannot confirm this possibility.

And what about my earlier comment about squandering vast sums of money? According to the CEDD website, the estimated cost of this project is HK$536 million (£44 million; US$69 million), which I would have taken to be the cost of the entire section but for the appearance of ‘7259RS’ on the map. This number also appears on the webpage detailing the project and is clearly a project number applying to the whole of the route shown on the map, yet the obvious inference from the map is that the cost estimate applies only to the part of the project between the green arrows.

I should emphasize that I’m not against the government spending money to improve the territory’s cycling facilities, but I consider that spending this amount of money without an accompanying, hard-hitting campaign to improve the standard of proficiency of the cyclists who use these facilities is not money well spent. I have yet to see any public information films on cycling safety, and I can’t help wondering whether many regular cyclists have read the safety tips provided on the Cycling Information Centre’s website.

I make these comments because I frequently see examples of poor cycling practice when out on my bike. Earlier this week, I was riding along the cycle track marked with a solid grey line in the bottom left-hand corner of the map when I spotted a lone cyclist coming towards me on the adjacent road, which is a dual carriageway that carries high-speed traffic.

However, the most egregious example of poor practice that I’ve witnessed this year occurred as Paula and I began the climb over Saddle Pass from the west, where we encountered the stragglers in a group that we both estimated to contain at least forty riders. I thought that they didn’t seem very confident, but Paula told me later that some of them didn’t even know how to change gear! This on a hill where I go from ninth gear at the bottom to second gear at the top. And when I reached the top section, which has a gradient of around 30 percent, the members of the group who had reached this point were all over the place as they pushed their bikes up the hill. I wonder what they’d have done if a big truck had suddenly appeared over the brow of the hill from the opposite direction—this road does carry some motor traffic, although it isn’t busy—given that their entire focus was on what they were doing while ignoring whatever was happening around them. And I wonder whose idea it was to take so many beginners over such a demanding route in the first place.

The proposed cycle track should keep inexperienced cyclists happy and away from the hills, but I can’t see either myself or Paula using it. Our preferred route may even be safer, albeit for cyclists who know what they’re doing. Meanwhile, I repeat my earlier question: why wasn’t work on the central section of the proposed route, from Kwu Tung to Fairview Park, started first?

Sod’s law in action! I took the photos on Wednesday and wrote the post on Friday, but by Saturday the situation on the ground had changed. Earth had been dumped all the way to the top of the concrete retaining wall in some places, so my surmise that the plan is for the track to go under the Sheung Yue River is clearly incorrect. My excuse is that the material at the base of the wall was being rolled, which suggested that it wasn’t too far below the eventual level of the track. And I do wonder how adequately the newly dumped material will be compacted.


  1. Very interesting!
    I hear you loud and clear. Sometimes I like to ride my bike on rural roads or bike paths, but other times, I WANT or NEED to be able to pedal to businesses, restaurants, or whatever, in busy urban settings. It is getting harder and harder to do that. Bike riders are being funneled onto particular streets that most times, they don't want to use. On the other hand, some areas are designating generous sized bike lanes on the road but off to the side. SO MANY riders refuse to stay in their lanes. They ride on the painted line (which is foolish at best), or on the automobile side of the line. I'm talking about riders on expensive bikes and wearing full-on club outfits. It is like they are daring drivers to hit them. I've been thinking seriously, about trading my current bike in on a mountain bike and not riding around town at all anymore. Actually, I'm riding a hybrid these days, having traded in my road bike for it several years ago. We spend so much of our time in the country, semi-wilderness, or wilderness settings these days, that my hybrid is virtually useless.

    1. Busy urban settings Pat? I prefer to walk, but then the distances here aren’t what they are in the States. I would certainly encourage you to switch to a mountain bike. I got one earlier this year, and it certainly makes the rough stuff more manageable.

      I also know what you mean about “riders on expensive bikes…wearing full-on club outfits”. We get them here too: skill levels no match for what they’re attempting.

      Actually, I get more and more angry with the government’s attitude towards cycling, and the area covered in this post is just one of several areas where its policy is seriously misguided. The DSD access road shown in these photos is reached from the cycle track network around Sheung Shui via a footbridge, which is shared with pedestrians, and I’m predicting that once the new cycle track is operational, anyone daring to ride over the bridge instead of pushing their bike will get a ticket. This has already happened with a footbridge a few miles south of Fanling (shown in the first photo here), where another part of this major cycle track uses the bridge to cross the railway. Naturally, I will ignore such injunctions, because I resent the regimentation that this implies.


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