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Des Voeux Road Central rezoning proposal
2016-01-06

Following is a question by the Hon Charles Peter Mok and a written reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (January 6):

Question:

I have learnt that for many years, the Hong Kong Institute of Planners (the Institute) has all along been advocating the rezoning of Des Voeux Road Central as a tram and pedestrian area, in a bid to alleviate the air pollution problem in the vicinity of Des Voeux Road Central and improve the road environment. Although the authorities indicated in its reply to the Institute in 2000 that the proposal was technically feasible, they did not subsequently implement it due to a lack of complementary policies. However, when the Institute, in collaboration with other organisations, revisited the aforesaid proposal with the Transport Department (TD) in 2014, TD pointed out that as the implementation of such proposal would have significant impact on the operation of the traffic and transport facilities in the district as well as the daily living of the residents, and as the proposal involved technical problems, the proposal was not feasible at the current stage. On the other hand, in September last year, Clean Air Network, Designing Hong Kong, Friends of the Earth (HK) and the Conservancy Association jointly submitted an application to the Town Planning Board under section 12A of the Town Planning Ordinance (Cap. 131) for rezoning Des Voeux Road Central as a tram and pedestrian area. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it has assessed the impacts to be brought about by rezoning Des Voeux Road Central as a tram and pedestrian area on (i) the pedestrian flow, and (ii) the flow, speed and distribution of vehicles on the sections of the three trunk roads in Central (i.e. Des Voeux Road Central, Connaught Road Central and Queen’s Road Central) during peak and non-peak hours; if it has, of the details; if not, whether it will conduct such an assessment;

(2) whether it has assessed the impacts to be brought about by rezoning Des Voeux Road Central as a tram and pedestrian area on the (i) road traffic, (ii) public transport services, (iii) boarding and alighting of passengers, (iv) delivery of goods, (v) conveyance of money under guard, (vi) emergency ambulance services, (vii) large-scale outdoor public events and (viii) construction works in the areas along Des Voeux Road Central; if it has, of the details; if not, whether it will conduct such an assessment;

(3) given that the Government is consulting the public on the Electronic Road Pricing Pilot Scheme in Central and its Adjacent Areas, whether the authorities have, on the premise of implementing such scheme, assessed the impacts to be brought about by rezoning Des Voeux Road Central as a tram and pedestrian area on the traffic flow, vehicular speed and air quality in Central;

(4) given that the authorities indicated in 2000 that the proposal to rezone Des Voeux Road Central as a tram and pedestrian area was technically feasible, of the factors based on which the authorities drew an opposite conclusion in 2014; and

(5) given that TD has implemented the Pedestrian Environment Improvement Scheme (Improvement Scheme) at the busier locations in Central, including designating some streets as pedestrian areas, whether the authorities have assessed the following aspects of the Improvement Scheme in the past five years:

(i) its effectiveness in improving the pedestrian and traffic flows in Central; if they have, of the details; if not, whether they will consider conducting such an assessment; and

(ii) its effectiveness in alleviating the air pollution problem in Central; if they have, set out in a table the concentrations of the various types of air pollutants in Central, including nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, respirable suspended particulates and fine suspended particulates; if not, whether they will consider conducting such an assessment?

Reply:

President,

My reply to various parts of the Hon Charles Peter Mok’s question is as follows.

(1) and (2) The Government has been fostering a pedestrian-friendly environment and encouraging all sectors to put forth proposals for improving the walking environment. However, any proposal must take into account the needs of passengers of different modes of transport and the transport trades, and must not bring great impact on residents’ lives and commercial activities of the proposed area.

In connection with the application for amendment of plan submitted by Clean Air Network, Designing Hong Kong, Friends of the Earth (HK) and the Conservancy Association to the Town Planning Board (TPB) pursuant to section 12A of the Town Planning Ordinance (Cap. 131) in September last year, requesting for rezoning of Des Voeux Road Central as a tram and pedestrian precinct, all relevant government departments have respectively provided comments to the TPB under their respective policy purviews and functional areas.

Regarding the assessment from the traffic perspective, the Transport Department (TD) considers that detailed assessment and solutions have not been provided to address issues such as the impact of the proposals on traffic and public transport of the nearby road sections, the demand for loading/unloading of goods and passengers, and traffic arrangements for buildings undergoing redevelopment or maintenance, etc. to show that the proposals are feasible. For instance, there are currently more than 70 bus routes plying Des Voeux Road Central, and on average over 130 000 bus passengers and over 50 000 tram passengers travel via and board/alight at Des Voeux Road Central on every working day. If some of the lanes of Des Voeux Road Central are closed for trams and buses to share the use on the remaining road surface of the tram tracks, it will have grave impact on the operation of trams and buses, resulting in service delays. The proposals will also inevitably aggravate the traffic congestion situation of nearby road sections, including main routes such as Connaught Road Central and Queen’s Road Central, etc. The proposals also include an additional signalised junction at the intersection of Connaught Road Central (outside Macau Ferry Bus terminus) and Morrison Street with a view to diverting the eastbound traffic currently using Des Voeux Road Central to the eastbound lanes of Connaught Road Central. However, it is the TD’s concern that the additional traffic lights may not only substantially reduce the capacity of the junction concerned, causing congestion and delays to the traffic at Connaught Road Central, but also affect the smooth operation of buses departing from the bus terminus next to Shun Tak Centre, resulting in longer journey times. In addition, the proposals will transfer the loading and unloading activities from Des Voeux Road Central to nearby roads, thereby further aggravating the traffic condition which is already extremely busy and saturated. Furthermore, the proposals will bring about the lack of feasible vehicular access to buildings along Des Voeux Road Central which undergo redevelopment and maintenance.

As for assessment in other areas, the relevant departments also have reservations on the proposals. For example, the proposals will affect the emergency vehicular access to buildings along Des Voeux Road. While the proposals could improve the air quality of Des Voeux Road Central, they will divert the vehicles currently running on Des Voeux Road Central to nearby roads with more residential flats, which equally cast impact on the air quality of the residential areas concerned and bring about noises. Every year, many public events take place in Central. Des Voeux Road Central, though not a venue for assembly, is an access for public transport and emergency vehicles, which will be seriously affected by the proposed rezoning.

(3) The Government is currently conducting a three-month public engagement exercise on an Electronic Road Pricing Pilot Scheme (the ERP Pilot Scheme) to be launched in Central and its adjacent areas to gauge the views of all sectors of the community. Based on the views collected, we will proceed with the next stage of work, including conducting an in-depth feasibility study to finalise various details. We hope that when the ERP Pilot Scheme is implemented, the traffic in Central and its adjacent areas will be improved, thereby providing more room for considering implementing measures to enhance the walking environment.

(4) In 2000, the Hong Kong Institute of Planners (the HKIP) submitted to the Government a proposal for setting up a pedestrian and tram precinct in Des Voeux Road Central to improve the environment. However, subsequent studies and assessments made by relevant departments indicated that the proposal was not technically feasible. In 2014, the HKIP submitted a proposal to the Government again for setting up a pedestrian and tram precinct in Des Voeux Road Central. The HKIP’s latest proposal is similar to the one that was submitted in 2000, but the latest proposal has still not included detailed assessment of and feasible solutions to issues such as its impact on traffic and public transport of the nearby road sections, the demand for loading/unloading of goods and passengers, the operation of emergency access and traffic arrangements for buildings undergoing redevelopment or maintenance, etc. Moreover, the final phase of the proposal is to rezone Des Voeux Road Central as tram-only lanes. As analysed above, this will cause substantial impact on the traffic and transport facilities in Central as well as the daily operation of the local community.

(5) (i) The TD has all along been concerned about the walking environment in the central business district (CBD), monitoring the developments and traffic conditions within the CBD, and where feasible introducing pedestrian precincts at relatively busy locations, facilities that are convenient to the pedestrians or other traffic improvement measures so as to enhance pedestrian safety and mobility. The TD is currently considering optimisation of the computer program controlling the traffic signals at pedestrian crossings and junctions concerned along Des Voeux Road Central, and the provision of additional pedestrian crossings at appropriate locations to further improve the walking environment in Central district. The TD will closely monitor the effectiveness of the pedestrian schemes on pedestrian and vehicular flows, and take follow-up action as appropriate.

(ii) In recent years, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has implemented various measures to improve roadside air quality. These include adopting an incentive-cum-regulatory approach to phase out progressively some 82 000 pre-Euro IV diesel commercial vehicles by end of 2019; deploying roadside remote sensing equipment to strengthen the control of emissions from petrol and liquefied petroleum gas vehicles; subsidising franchised bus companies to retrofit Euro II and III franchised buses with selective catalytic reduction devices so as to upgrade their emission performance to Euro IV or above levels; and setting up franchised bus low emission zones in three busy corridors in Mong Kok, Causeway Bay and Central.

Significant improvement in roadside air quality has been achieved following the progressive introduction of the above improvement measures. Data collected by the EPD’s Central Roadside Air Quality Monitoring Station between 2010 and 2015 indicate that the concentrations of respirable suspended particulates, fine suspended particulates, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide decreased by 37, 33, 24, 18 and 35 per cent respectively during the above period. As for ozone, it is not a major pollutant in roadside air. Its concentration remained low during the period from 2011 to 2015. The average annual concentrations of the relevant air pollutants are set out in the Annex.

Ends/Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Issued at HKT 15:37

Office Of Hon. Charles Mok, Legislative Councillor (IT)