The upcoming sale of a government building in Mong Kok is a valuable chance to improve walkability in the area, but officials are shirking their responsibility. An edited version of the article below appeared in the South China Morning Post on 2 January 2016.
Paul Zimmerman, Pok Fu Lam district councillor and CEO of Designing Hong Kong.
I like the Ombudsman’s recent public announcements that tai chi is healthy, but not in public administration. Tai chi, in local slang, means to shirk responsibility. The Ombudsman, Connie Lau Yin-hing, is already so busy clearing obvious cases of maladministration that I wonder whether she will have time for the well-practised, evasive language bureaucrats dish out when they reply to proposals and questions.
In our campaign to improve walkability, our latest encounter with tai chi is over the sale of the Trade and Industry Department (TID) Tower, formerly known as Argyle Centre Tower II, on Nathan Road in Mong Kok. It is a 1980s building owned by the government. The tender for its sale closes on January 8. We have asked for it to include terms which oblige the buyer to internalise the links to Mong Kok MTR station and the Mong Kok Road footbridge. These stairs and escalators currently obstruct pavements and roads surrounding the building. Mongkok MTR station exits B1, B2 and B3 occupy the south and east pavements. Staircases of the Mongkok Road footbridge built by Sun Hung Kei occupy the pavement and two lanes of Mong Kok Road north of the building.
Removing these structures from the adjacent pavements and roads would improve pedestrian and vehicular circulation at street level. Moreover, linking the footbridge with a new Argyle Street footbridge via the Argyle Centre Towers is a critical piece of the puzzle the government has been struggling with: the creation of a comprehensive elevated pedestrian network desperately needed to alleviate the overcrowding of Mong Kok’s streets.
The sale of the building is a one-off opportunity to improve walkability. If we fail to spell out these requirements in the tender, it will be hard to convince the buyer to give up gross floor area and to invest in the works later.
The Government Property Agency’s first move to shirk responsibility was outrageous. It said: “Having consulted the Transport Department, we note that it would cause inconvenience to the pedestrians. It would require pedestrians to pass through the internal area of the building before reaching the footbridge and Nathan Road. The route, which will not be open at all times, will be indirect and is not desirable from the perspectives of property management and cost-effectiveness.”
We pointed out that there are many buildings in Hong Kong where this happens all the time, including 100 Queen’s Road Central and the Central-Mid-Levels escalator.
The second tai chi move was claiming that our proposal for amending the tender would cause undue delay to the disposal of the building. The government decided to proceed as scheduled so that “the office space in the TID Tower can be released to the market in a timely manner in accordance with our announced plan to increase the supply of commercial space in prime locations to meet keen market demand”.
This is not the first time we have encountered a misplaced focus on expediency over walkability.
When it became clear in 2009 that the Tamar footbridge would stop 10cm short of Admiralty Centre, we wrote to the government and pointed out the importance of a direct link into the elevated system of Queensway Plaza, Pacific Place and the connected buildings. Officials replied that it would require too much time to negotiate with the owners of Admiralty Centre. So instead, we now all have to go down to street level and back up again to continue on our way.
The government’s third tai chi move talked of how they would “encourage the successful bidder to consider ways of enhancing the connection between the TID Tower and the existing footbridge system and adjoining commercial buildings to improve the surrounding environment”.
From the failures to link Kowloon Bay Station and MegaBox, the Sheraton Hotel and the Middle Road Tunnel, and the Nexxus Building and the Central footbridge, we know that encouragement means little in the Government’s dictionary.
Which department will be responsible for such “encouraging” once the building has been sold? Would this include links to the MTR? Who would pay for the removal of the structures on the pavements and road? Will a bonus plot ratio be offered to compensate for the public passages through the property? Will the land premium be waived for the links over and under government land? These questions go on.
All this would be so much easier to resolve before selling the building. Instead, we will have to wait and see whether this encouragement is real or simply a wimpy tai chi move, another one for the Ombudsman’s tray.
One-off opportunity to improve Mongkok
The Government has announced the sale of the vacant Trade and Industry Department Tower (TID Tower) in Mongkok to the private sector.
This provides an one-off opportunity to relocate the lifts and staircases connecting the Mongkok Road Footbridge System and the Mongkok MTR station into the TID Tower.
Exits B1, B2 and B3 of the Mongkok MTR station occupy adjacent pavements, and the adjacent section of Mongkok Road was reduced by two lanes for staircases and lifts to the footbridge.
Roads and pavements around the TID Tower are narrow. Relocating the staircases and lifts would allow widening of the footway, the carriageway, or both.
It is common in Hong Kong to ask property owners to create public access to footbridges and MTR stations. Architects and developers understand the design, engineering and management challenges of internalizing public lifts and staircases, and allowing pedestrians to pass through private buildings.
The obligation to incorporate the staircases and lifts would not be detrimental to a sale. By specifying 24 hour access, minimum width and capacity in the tender, potential buyers can consider the implications prior to making their bid for this government property.
Whether buyers plan to redevelop the site or re-use the building as is, they will simply consider the cost and the space needed, and adjust the amount they bid accordingly.
The sale of the TID Tower provides a ‘once and for all’ opportunity. Once the site is sold it will be difficult to improve the area as future resumption is unpractical.
Making changes to the tender will cause a slight delay in the sale of the TID Tower. It is worth the effort as it would improve the pedestrian environment and traffic flow, and make Mongkok a better place for all.
11 June 2013
司馬文說：「一直以來，車輛都有使用道路優先權。我們需要改變這個思維並將重點放在行人方 面。儘管自1977年以來，當局已耗資160億元於鞏固斜坡工程，當中一半的斜坡是位於道路旁邊，但是政府沒有在進行斜坡工程時一同修葺行人路。透過網上 平台，我們希望能建立一個資料庫務求平衡行人的需要。」
In the latest video promoting ‘missinglinks.hk’ Paul Zimmerman had to jump and hang off a fence to save him from oncoming traffic.
The “Lost in Deep Water Bay” video (http://youtu.be/MtI9OPiiZB8) highlights the problem of intermittent footpaths along Hong Kong’s roads.
The first video, “Lost in Tsim Sha Tsui” (http://youtu.be/ThFiS_Nn0Q4) highlighted the problem of missing pedestrian crossings by comparing jaywalking across Salisbury Road with the tunnel route.
“The priority has always been the vehicle. We need a greater focus on pedestrians. Despite spending $16 billion on fixing slopes since 1977, half of which were along roads, Government did not fix the footpaths at the same time. By creating a list on-line we hope to help re-balance the focus,” Paul Zimmerman explained.
Designing Hong Kong has created the “Missing Links” campaign to gather information on pedestrian links which need to be fixed through crowd sourcing. People are invites to upload pictures of footpaths or crossings which need improvement at www.missinglinks.hk.
Designing Hong Kong will inform the Transport Department and track their response on-line.
2013年5月2日 — 創建香港展開名為「邊度冇路行」的社區運動
在香港的路上走總會遇到種種問題：消失的道路、充滿障礙的道路、缺乏過路處或行人天橋、不合規格的行人路……這些行人路規劃問題又是由另一些問題引起：歷 史遺留下來的問題、土地水平差異、土地業權、日益增加的城市密度和交通流量…… 去年，司馬文就此向南區區議會提出建議，該議會找出了47處有問題的行人 路，改善工程已列入區議會的工作計劃。
「香港其中一個著名的問題行人路地點是尖沙咀的梳士巴利道與彌敦道的交界。在路的一邊是從購物熱點和地鐵站，另一邊是著名的觀光地點尖沙咀海旁。要跨越這 條直走不用三十秒的道路，我們要用上五分鐘去走隧道。」司馬文說。即使有成千上萬的指示牌和地圖，無論遊客或香港人都會在這個路口迷失，亦會在隧道裡迷 失。
道路安全研究小組主席鄺子憲先生：「我們支持創建香港這項運動，邀請公眾參與找出不理想的行人道，與政府當局及專業人員一起締造更美好安全的步行環境。為 了提高地面過路處的安全性，我們主張引進更現代化的安全設計及管理理念，包括30及40公里／小時的區域性街道限速和控制車流量的措施等，並結合吸引的街 道景觀設計。」