November 8th, 2011

Hong Kong’s Bicycle Graveyards

Posted in Asia Pacific, Public Space, Transportation by Christopher DeWolf

Bicycle dump. Photo by Dickson Lee for the SCMP

Sai Kung’s bicycle graveyard is back and bigger than ever. Last Wednesday, dozens of bikes were seen piled atop one another on a stretch of government land in the suburban Hong Kong district.

It’s a symptom of a wider problem – an acute shortage of bicycle parking spaces and a government that seems unwilling to address the problem.

According to the last Travel Characteristics Survey, which was conducted in 2002, 15.2 percent of people in Hong Kong had a bicycle available for use. The Cycling Alliance estimates there are more than a million bikes throughout the city.

But the government provides only 41,440 public bicycle parking spots. As a result, many cyclists leave their bicycles attached to roadside fences where they risk being seized by the government. After the bikes are confiscated, there is no way for their owners to reclaim them.

The Sai Kung dump is one of several used by the government to store bicycles confiscated from public areas. They are eventually auctioned in bulk to scrap metal dealers. Last year, after the South China Morning Post ran a story about the practice, the Sai Kung dump was cleared. But now it has returned, with even more bikes than before. Cyclists are outraged.

“This is first and foremost a failure of the government to provide better cycling facilities,” says Hong Kong Cycling Alliance member Martin Turner. “We have a crying need for more bicycle parking but the response of the government is that bikes are a litter problem to be cleared away.”

Last July, web developer Leung Wang-hei was cycling to Tai Wai MTR station with his wife, Olivia Yong. The couple normally leaves their bikes in the parking area outside the MTR station before taking the train to work. “But usually it is overcrowded,” says Leung, so he and Yong locked their bikes to a roadside fence, next to one of several blue signs indicating that it is a bicycle parking area.

When they returned from work later that day, it was raining, so they left their bikes at the station overnight. The next day, they were gone.

“The middle of the parking lot was empty, even though the ends were still crowded with bicycles,” says Leung. “Our first thought was theft, but when we looked around we found a notice from the government in one of the other bike baskets. It was just a small piece of paper that said you have to move away your bicycle or they will do the action to clean up the area.”

Leung assumed he could reclaim his bike, so he called the Lands Department, which had issued the clearance notice. He was referred to the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which conducted the clearance, but when he spoke to an officer from that department he was told the parking lot is managed by the Transport Department.

Four months later, Leung still has not received an answer about what happened to his bike and whether he can reclaim it. He has since launched a Facebook group, “Who Stole My Bike?” to publicize the government’s seizure practices.

“If what I did is illegal, I expect to pay a fine and get back my property,” he says. “Why is it so different from a car, which only gets a ticket?”

Bike parking

Crowded bike parking area outside Tai Wai station

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Illegally-parked bicycles on Cheung Chau

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Illegally-parked bicycles in Fotan

A spokeswoman for the Lands Department confirmed that the Hiram’s Highway site is used to store confiscated bicycles, but would not answer questions about where the bikes came from or what will happen to them.

In the past, the government has justified the seizures by saying that appropriate warning is given before clearances and that the majority of seized bicycles have been abandoned by their owners.

“This is a lie,” says Martin Turner. “It is simply not true. We estimate that about a quarter [of bikes] might not have attendant owners. The majority would be reclaimed. You need only look at the chain and shininess of the saddles to see how often a bike is used. It’s grossly unfair. There needs to be a mechanism for their owners to be reunited with them.”

Solving the root of the problem would mean providing more bicycle parking spots, he adds. Though the Transport Department has pledged to introduce more than 1,000 new spots around the New Territories, Turner says it is not nearly enough to meet demand.

The Planning Department recommends that one bicycle parking spot be provided for every 15 flats smaller than 753 square feet in residential developments near train stations in the New Territories. It also recommends the provision of 30 parking spaces for every 10,000 residents living within two kilometres of a railway station. In practice, however, these recommendations are not met.

NO ROOM FOR BIKES AT THE HONG KONG GOVERNMENT’S NEW HQ

A rendering of the government’s new headquarters on the site of the former Tamar naval base. The HQ opened last month; construction on the grounds will be complete next year

The government is under pressure to provide space for bicycle parking at its new headquarters at Tamar. Last August, 25 assistants to Legislative Councillors signed a letter addressed to LegCo President Joseph Tsang Yok-sing expressing their disappointment that government workers who cycle to work have not been accommodated in the new building’s design.

The campaign is spearheaded by Ivy Chan, assistant to Legislative Councillor Cyd Ho Sau-lan, who has been cycling to work for two years. “It is still seen by the government as a leisure thing,” she says. “That is the core problem. The government will not change its mind.”

Though only a handful of government workers currently cycle to work, Chan says this will increase if cycling was made safer and more accessible. “It saves money on transportation and the main thing is it’s healthy,” she says.

Since moving to the new headquarters, she has also noticed that many of the nearby restaurants that provide lunchboxes to LegCo are delivered by bike, but the deliverymen have nowhere to park their bicycles while dropping off food.

Chan and her supporters are planning to organise a special event at Tamar to raise awareness of cycling to work.

For the time being, Chan counts on her bike, which she parks in the hallway outside her office, to remind colleagues of the benefits of cycling. “I have named my corridor the first urban cycle track in Hong Kong,” she says.

The above two stories were published in the South China Morning Post on November 6, 2011.

BICYCLE PARKING WHERE NONE IS SAID TO EXIST

When I was working on the above stories, Martin Turner forwarded me a government document outlining the number and location of public bike parking spots in Hong Kong. Here they are according to district, as of September 2011:

Central & Western: 0
Wan Chai: 0
Eastern: 10
Southern: 0
Kowloon City: 0
Sham Shui Po: 60
Kwun Tong: 0
Kwai Tsing: 0
Yau Tsim Mong: 0
Wong Tai Sin: 0
Islands: 5,050
North: 3,190
Sai Kung: 3,370
Shatin: 10,620
Tuen Mun: 3,890
Tai Po: 3,480
Tsuen Wan: 170
Yuen Long: 11,560

As you can see, bicycle parking is concentrated heavily in the districts where many people get around by bike. But even then, the number of parking spots is far lower than the number of bikes. Shatin alone is estimated to have more than 150,000 bikes, meaning that fewer than 10 percent of bikes have somewhere to park legally. Some housing estates provide bicycle parking, but not enough to make a significant difference in the number of spots available.

There’s also the question of whether these numbers are even accurate. Last week, I was leaving Prince Edward MTR station — well within the boundaries of Yau Tsim Mong District — when I came across a public bicycle parking area indicated by an official-looking “P” sign with a symbol of a bicycle inscribed on it. This was the first time I had ever seen government-provided bike parking in Kowloon. What makes it even stranger is that, officially, it does not exist — look at the list above and you’ll see that, according to the government, there are precisely zero bicycle parking spots provided in Yau Tsim Mong.

I asked Martin Turner about this. His response: “The government is an octopus and none of the tentacles know what the other one is doing.”

THE GOOD OLD DAYS

Another interesting tidbit from Martin Turner, who was digging around a 1985 list of Kowloon-Canton Railway bylaws. He discovered that, if a bicycle was found parked inappropriately outside a train station on the former KCR line — a station like Tai Wai — it would be impounded and the owner given a chance to pay a fine and reclaim the bike. If the bicycle was not collected within three days, the KCR would attempt to contact the owner at his last known address. If they were unable to reach the owner after six months, they would finally sell or dispose of the bike.


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2 comments

  1. Alistair Kambobe says:

    Good day, I am interested in shipping those unwanted bicycles to Zambia.
    Can any one connect me?
    260977497410

    March 25th, 2013 at 8:04 am

  2. jerry sarai says:

    I would like to put these bikes back in action and recycle them.

    June 8th, 2013 at 5:56 am