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Traffic study reveals extent of problems in Kowloon

The secret ‘West Kowloon Reclamation Development Traffic Study’ shows that 18 junctions will be badly impacted by traffic from the Express Rail station in Kowloon. It identifies a package of measures which are (quote:) ‘the minimum requirements that would (only) provide a marginally sustainable road network up to 2031’.
(The study has been deposited with the secretariat of the Legislative Council for legislators' eyes only. Reading it requires traffic engineering know how. Its account of the issues is starkly different from Government reports to LegCo - click here.)

The secret study shows that 18 junctions will be badly impacted by the express rail station (reserve capacity drops below 10%). HK$11.5bln in the HK$66.9bln funding application received by the Legislative Council is earmarked to alleviate problems with new roads and tunnels immediately around the station. Not included is the cost for the many other 'improvements' such as the critical Canton Road underpass (another HK$5bln?).

The study covers radical ‘improvement’ measures: removing turns from Nathan Road junctions; forcing traffic through side streets; widening West Kowloon roads to 13 lanes; building multiple road underpasses with 23 meter high sound barriers; converting sections of the cultural district, parks and pavements into roads; and forcing pedestrians into walkways. (More 'improvement' details below.)

The study did not check whether all 'improvements' are technically feasible or acceptable to the community, or what the costs are. It makes clear though that even when ALL measures are implemented, congestion at 6 junctions can still NOT be resolved. Congestion can only be resolved by changing development plans and moving the station elsewhere!

Legislators need to consider the real cost of the express rail station in West Kowloon

The Express Rail Expert Group (http://www.betterrail4hk.org/ ) of ProCommons, a group of independent engineers, recommends integrating the express rail with our local rail network in the New Territories. They claim shorter journey times, HK$30bln of savings sharply reducing the subsidy needed, and fewer traffic problems. See previous newsletter. The traffic study confirms the extent of the traffic problems in Kowloon, some of which can never be resolved. The study also shows that not all costs have been included in its HK$66.9bln funding application.

Off course we need to link Hong Kong with the national express rail. But after a decade of embarrassing delays in planning the linkage, Hong Kong is now rushing an ill-considered solution.

Legislators need to consider the real costs and benefits of placing the new station in West Kowloon, and how this compares with integrating the Express Rail with our local rail network in the New Territories, taking into account that by 2018, 3.95 million people or 52% of Hong Kong’s 7.59 million population will live in the New Territories. (1.35 million (17.8%) will live on Hong Kong Island and 2.29 million (30.2%) in Kowloon - see new report by Planning Department)

Questions for Government

Legislative Council Members have a responsibility to ask Government on January 8 whether the HK$66.9bln funding request for the express rail station in West Kowloon reflects all risks and costs:

- Unaccounted road and transport works;
- Congestion in Kowloon (value of time, pollution, property values);
- Cost of delay in road works (i.e. Canton Road underpass);
- Cost of traffic diversions (noise and air pollution; safety; loss of parking and unloading facilities);
- Encroachment of cultural district, parks and other land (land cost, opportunity cost);
- Severance (wide roads between lots; distance between existing activities and cultural district facilities);
- Inhospitable street level (adjacent property values - note recent planning application);
- Resource constraints (Delay in local rail projects such as the Shatin Central link);
- Opportunity cost of funds (Programs which could be funded by HK$30bln savings on the express rail);
- Job opportunities in New Territories (GDP; travel cost savings; social benefits; betterment pf land and properties)
- Risk of changes in assumptions (wrong population and GDP forecasts).

'Improvement' measures: Permanent traffic diversions

Traffic diversions include removing right and left hand turns and forcing traffic through side streets where parking, loading and unloading areas will need to be removed. These longer routes will create noise and roadside air pollution as well as safety concerns and inconveniences for local residents, businesses and visitors.

'Improvement' measures: Land take for new road works

Red lines indicate the new roads and tunnels. The grey lines show the current roads and pavements, as well as the boundaries of the cultural district, parks and other sites which will be reduced.

'Improvement' measures: Wider roads encroach on parks and cultural district

Wider roads - up to 13 lanes wide - will encroach on cultural district, parks, pavements and other sites.

'Improvement' measures: Road widening impacts living environment

Wider roads will impact the quality of the living environment for residents and the walkability for visitors.

'Improvement' measures: A maze of pedestrian linkages

Pedestrians will be treated like rats, mice and hamsters (pick your favourite) and forced through a maze of subways and elevated corridors, as there will be nowhere else to cross the jungle of roads in Kowloon.

After all 'improvement' measures: we still have congestion

After spending another HK$5bln and the impairment of the pedestrian and living environment with new roads and traffic measures, Kowloon will face serious congestion unless we scale down development plans and move the express rail station to the New Territories.
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