Finding the missing link

Finding the missing link

It can be dangerous to walk on the road, but in some places pedestrians have no choice.

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The picture of a child walking on the road which inspired Missing Links.
The picture of a child walking on the road which inspired Missing Links.
Photo: Missing Links

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A missing footpath on Island Road.
A missing footpath on Island Road.
Photo: Missing Links

If you've ever walked along a mountain road - full of bendy twists and narrow turns - you'll know how scary it can be. At any moment a car might zip around the corner and crash into you, especially because many sections lack a proper footpath.

Mount Davis Road, in Pok Fu Lam, is one such road. Paul Zimmerman, Pok Fu Lam's district councillor, was shown photos of an 11-year-old nervously edging his way along the side of the road as cars flashed by. He decided something had to be done.

So in 2012 Zimmerman created Missing Links, a campaign to find and report any cases of substandard footpaths, missing crossings and other pedestrian hazards across the city.

"The first thing we did was to raise the issue in the Southern District Council, where we showed members that substandard footpaths not only exist in Pok Fu Lam, but also in Deep Water Bay, Repulse Bay, Stanley, basically throughout the entire district," says Zimmerman.

"We then took the idea one step further when we looked at missing links on other parts of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and the New Territories."

Missing Links encourages anyone who comes across areas which may be dangerous for pedestrians to report them to its website, missinglinks.hk

Zimmerman personally investigates the areas, posting photos and creating videos for YouTube of the dangerous road sections. He then submits a report to the respective district council.

Two years after being founded, Missing Links has received 159 reports across 14 districts, and has submitted 128 of these reports to the government.

However, getting the government to pay attention is no easy task.

"The Transport Department's priority is focusing on vehicles, traffic, but they're not very focused on pedestrians," he says.

"It really takes some effort to get it going. The department will do the easy ones right away, for example adding 'look left, look right' markings on roads, or installing warning strips for visually impaired people.

"But when it comes to the ones which require [work] with different departments, or perhaps with private landowners, things do not move as quickly as they should. The lack of action from the Transport Department is basically inviting people to walk on the roads."

But despite a few setbacks, not to mention frustration when the department fails to act, Zimmerman can point to some successes.

For example, he submitted a proposal in 2012 about a missing crossing on Salisbury Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, which has since been approved. The crossing is set to be restored by the end of next month.

"The crossing was walked on by thousands and thousands of people each day, including many tourists," he says.

"Previously, using the subway would take you more than five minutes just to get across. With the crossing, it will only take you 30 seconds."

Missing Links has big plans for the future. Zimmerman points to European cities for what he describes as the "potential benefits of improving connectivity". This means helping everyone by making it easier to move around the city.

"It seems that after they do work which prioritises pedestrians over vehicles, shops report increasing revenue. More people come to the area, there is more economic activity, and people will enjoy walking more and thus be healthier," he says.

It won't be easy to bring about such a change in Hong Kong. In many cases, there is little room to expand pavements. But sometimes even small changes can save lives, and benefit the whole city.

"The right balance has got to be struck, particularly at some basic locations," he says. "The current infrastructure is not sufficient and is not well designed to handle the present pedestrian flow, let alone the future. We have to make more noise."

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Finding the missing link

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