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HK$1.7bn plan for Yuen Long footbridge will not solve sidewalk congestion, professional groups say

A  proposed HK$1.7 billion Yuen Long footbridge will not solve the problem of congestion on the area’s busy sidewalks, five professional groups have said.

The footbridge over the Yuen Long Town nullah connecting to Long Ping MTR Station aims to relieve congestion on pedestrian paths during peak hours. The plan has been under heavy criticism from local residents groups and professional groups, who say it is extravagant and risks becoming another underutilised white elephant project.

At the end of June, the government postponed its funding request on the Legislative Council Finance Committee’s agenda to provide more time to consult the community following an outcry. It appears on the committee’s agenda for its last two meetings before summer break on Tuesday and Wednesday, but is at the bottom.

Artist’s impression of the Yuen Long footbridge. Photo: Highways Department.

Headline Daily on Tuesday cited unnamed sources as saying that the government was planning to start the bidding process during the Legislative Council’s summer break. But the project is unlikely to be passed over the next two days and, if it is finally vetoed, the bidders will not be able to recover their losses, according to the paper’s sources.

Lawmaker Michael Luk Chung-hung, who supports the plan, said the government is currently drawing up the tender documents.

Five professional groups representing architects, planners, landscape architects, urban designers, and surveyors held a joint press conference on Tuesday. The groups said they rarely addressed the media together, but all five held the same view on the Yuen Long project – that it will not solve the congestion problem and will cause “irreversible and serious damage” to the surrounding space.

“There’s no question that it will divert some of the pedestrian flow, but it will not solve the fundamental traffic problem,” Marvin Chen, the president of the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, said.

He criticised the proposal for not adequately taking into account human behaviour. Chan said the area where bottlenecks most frequently occur at crosswalks is 350 metres from the proposed bridge.

architects groups

Representatives of the 5 professional groups. Photo: Inmedia.net.

They said the government’s proposal will also negatively affect ventilation and green spaces in the area.

“We are also very concerned that the current proposal to built a footbridge on top of the nullah will destroy the urban space, and also does not meet the goal of creating a livable city.”

“[B]uilding the structure on top of the only pre-existing open space in the city or community [the nullah], this does not seem to conform with the urban space.”

Chen said that building a livable city includes incorporating more plants and trees, avoiding building unnecessary structures, and leaving open spaces for ventilation to improve the area’s microclimate.

In 2014, the professional organisations representing architects, planners, landscape architects, and urban designers put forward an alternate plan that would only cost HK$900 million, but it was rejected by the Yuen Long District Council.

yuen long footbridge

Map of congestion hotspots and their distance to the proposed footbridge. Photo: Inmedia.net.

In June, the council passed a non-binding motion in support of the footbridge by 18 votes to three, with pro-establishment council members voting overwhelmingly in favour of the proposal.

Chen said the groups were not calling on lawmakers to veto the project, as they were not advocacy groups, but hoped to find a solution that would enable Hong Kong to move forward.

They proposed that the government first take temporary measures to alleviate traffic such as by widening or moving crosswalks, better managing traffic flow and illegal parking, and clearing away obstacles on the road, then decide whether a footbridge is necessary after evaluating their effectiveness.

Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung previously said the need for the footbridge was unquestionable.

“We all agree there is a need for a footbridge there to facilitate the pedestrian flow and also there is a need locally in Yuen Long.”

Additional reporting: Holmes Chan and Jennifer Creery. 

HK$1.7bn plan for Yuen Long footbridge will not solve sidewalk congestion, professional groups say