I just got back from a trip to Hong Kong & Shenzhen, China, and was surprised to find that Hong Kong, a popular member of the urban tourism bucket-list, and a city once holding the densest population on earth, was a major offender of good walkable designs.
At non-signaled intersections (generally smaller side streets, of which there are many), crosswalks are completely absent. Instead, painted messages reading “Look Left”/”Look Right” sit on the ground:
The wording seems to suggest I am responsible for my own safety when crossing, which seemed true in reality: unlike generally in New York, stepping off the curb did not convince drivers to slow down, but rather dodge a little and continue through at high speeds. Pedestrians at the intersections generally waited for vehicles to stop coming before attempting to cross. Occasionally I encountered more brazen people like me, who forced drivers to stop; typical tricks like holding your umbrella out such that it would scratch the hood if the driver proceeded through seemed to work as they do in New York.
I’m very curious what the law is here. Are the drivers supposed to be yielding to me? The text on the road implies otherwise, as does the driver behavior. I did see a woman get honked at crossing once, to which she turned around and confronted the driver, aka my spirit animal.
In addition to this, most intersections also had gates up to prevent crossing in the wrong location:
Many of these gates forced the crossing point (especially when a crosswalk did exist) to be inset, which actually is a valid safe crossing design, even if inconvenient (the idea being that the driver is going slower, and has better line of sight, further in to the turn).
In reality, these just forced people into awkward positions where they had to walk on the outside of the gate for a while and would be pinned if a driver veered out of their lane.
A significant amount of money must have been spent on the dozens of pedestrian overpasses I came across. Here’s one by Central designed to eliminate any potential slowdowns of traffic on the street (highway?) below:
By the way, that’s a highway on/off ramp. No crosswalk, no signals.
At least there was a slight view every time I had to cross the street:
Intriguingly, Hong Kong actually has fewer deaths than NYC (similarly sized) by a large margin. It certainly didn’t feel safe there, though, and the added reroutes and stair climbing to cross streets really hurt the walkability of the neighborhoods.
I’ll close these thoughts out with this: HK seemed to have a comparable number of Teslas to Silicon Valley. Plastic straws were banned, leaving me with half-shredded paper tubes in my coffee. But despite having 99.9% on-time performance on the subway, and one of the densest cities in the world, HK is doing whatever it can to keep cars king. That’s faux environmentalism. Unsurprisingly, I saw under 5 bicycle riders in my one week there, compared to countless (e-)bike riders in Shenzhen just 15 minutes across the border.
I’ve been meaning to write this ever since Cruise announced plans for testing in Manhattan. Then I started to write it after Uber’s fatal crash. This week seems like a perfect time to actually finish it, since TransAlt’s Reclaim magazine and The War on Cars podcast are talking about the subject, and Waymo is reported to launch their driverless service by end of year.