World Green Organisation (WGO) is holding its ‘Green WALK Hong Kong’ campaign again this year to promote the physical health and social benefits of walking instead of taking taxis for short distance transportation in order to reduce carbon emissions and fight against climate change. This year, WGO is launching its first ‘Green WALK Score’ pilot program which provides the public with a set of objective tools that measure the ‘walkability’ of a particular road. As part of this pilot program, WGO invited several prominent leaders of Hong Kong including government officials and community leaders to walk and learn more about the scoring methods. The score can help provide a basis on what can be done to improve the walkability so that Hong Kong can eventually transform into a ‘walkable city’.
WGO invited Dr Chui Tak-yi, Undersecretary of the Food and Health Bureau and Dr Lu Fu-min, Program Manager (Walkability) of the Transport Department to participate in today’s (October 17th) “Green WALK with Leaders”. The route began near the Mong Kok train station and ended at King’s Park. During the route, the indicators and criteria for the ‘Green WALK Index’ was introduced at individual checkpoints.
At the first checkpoint, Dr Chui Tak-yi and Dr Lu Fu-min examined the ventilation capacity outside the bank centre by measuring the wind speed.
Attract the Hong Kong citizens to walk more
WGO believes that in order to promote Hong Kong as a walkable city, a large scale collaboration is needed to make the atmosphere more attractive and environmentally friendly. In addition to increasing public awareness of the benefits of walking, a range of physical, green supportive facilities needs to be built to encourage the public to walk more and spend more time outdoors. Different factors such as temperature, wind speed, humidity, clothing, to pavement conditions, are all essential for people to feel comfortable to walk outside.
Impact of Weather
For the past 2 years, WGO has conducted a survey about the walking habits of Hong Kong people. WGO surveyed 408 adults over the age of 18 in 2016 and 505 in 2017. Survey results found that 50% of respondents said that due to the weather being too hot, cold, rainy, humid etc. that they choose to take public transportation instead of walking for short distances. In this year’s survey, more than 70% of respondents said that they were willing to walk instead of taking transportation in order to save the environment. This percentage has gone down by 10%. Last year 80% of people were willing to walk in order to save money. A possible reason could be the increased frequency of extreme weather which has made the air quality difficult and uncomfortable to walk more.
Ten indicators of walkability using four categories
WGO created ten indicators of walkability using four main categories; comfortability, accessibility, pedestrian friendly, and environmental friendly. Comfortability is calculated by measuring different weather and environment-related factors such as air quality, wind velocity, level of ambient sound, amount of green areas and open spaces. Accessibility looks at the condition of pedestrian walkways, amount of people, how safe it is, and number of road signs. Pedestrian-friendly-ness involves the amount of facilities that are available to pedestrians such as bathrooms and water fountains. Environmental friendly-ness looks at the amount of recycling bins available in the vicinity. Using these ten indicators, WGO created a ‘Green Walk Index’ for the public to use as an objective measurement tool to calculate the walkability of the streets.
Dr Chui Tak-yi and a group of distinguished guests helped to measure the crowdedness of the roads. This test counted the number of people who walked past within a meter radius.
Dr William Yu, Chief Executive Officer of World Green Organisation said, “Although most Hong Kong streets are walkable, there are not enough greenery and pedestrian-friendly streets that promote walking. The ‘Green WALK Index’ is a pilot project that is part of the ‘Green WALK’ scheme in order to set an objective measurement index of walkability and encourage the public to walk more and transform Hong Kong into a walkable city.”
Green WALK with Leaders
Today, WGO invited various stakeholders including Dr Chui Tak Yi, Under Secretary of the Food and Health Bureau, and Mr Kevin Luk, Program Manager (Walkability) of the Transport Department to join hands and walk together. During this ‘Green WALK with Leaders’, WGO announced its Green walk index and its ten indicators of walkability to the public. The tour started at the bank centre near exit E in the Mong Kok MTR and finished at King’s Park Playground via Sai Yeung Choi Street, Dundas Street, and Waterloo Road. There was a total of 10 checkpoints where different walkability index was introduced.
Most streets in Hong Kong pass standards
According to the data obtained by WGO’s environmental analyst team, the route at 11am on 11th October received a total of 61 points based on the green walk index. At the beginning of the route, the index was relatively low as a result of the air quality, sound, and availability of green areas. However, by the end of the trail near and in the park, the index was rated quite high as the checkpoints had more open air and greening. Scoring less than 50 points on the index is below standards. 50-60 points are considered generally moderate levels. Therefore, the 61 points that was calculated technically passed the standard but more has to be done in order to attract more citizens to walk more.
The guests walked to the final checkpoint at King’s Park. Along the way, city planning experts and arborists introduced the various trees and discussed the future of urban greening. Dr William Yu believes that a well designed road with extensive greening and supporting facilities will help to attract more people to walk.
The guests successfully walked through all the checkpoints and arrived at a rest area at King’s Park. Dr William Yu stated that “since ‘Green WALK Index’ is still it its pilot stage, WGO will continue to collect insight from professionals and stakeholders to develop an even more objective and balanced assessment standard for the future.”
Using the index to improve the current walkability design
Dr William Yu, Chief Executive Officer of World Green Organisation, quoted
The walkability index reflects Hong Kong’s lack of emphasis on this situation. Although the score for most streets were not terrible, they were not good. There were a few green areas where citizens might enjoy walking, they were not common or easy to find. There still needs to be work done in order to invoke a citywide attitude change towards walking. WGO hopes that the walkability index can help act as a tool to improve the current walkability design of Hong Kong streets. By improving the areas with a lower walkability score using Hong Kong’s ‘best practices’, citizens of Hong Kong will walk more and transform Hong Kong into a popular walkable city.
A prime example of how architectural design can contribute to improving walkability and air quality is Time Square in Causeway Bay. In 2015, there was a huge air pollution problem in that area due to the tall buildings and lack of ventilation which made it hard for the polluted air and exhaust from the cars and buses on Hennessy Road to disperse. In order to solve this problem, an open area was created on the 4th, 7th, and 11th floor in order to increase the air circulation in that area and improve the suffocating air of Hennessy Road.
Dr Yu continued.
As temperatures are rising to unbearable levels, Hong Kong must take action to help cool it down. One quick way of doing so is by planting more trees. Trees are helpful as they help lower outdoor temperatures while providing shade, filtering pollutants, and reducing solar radiation. In addition to trees, having a body of water can help cool the area. The use of cold materials (cold meaning materials that can reflect sunlight or have the ability to dissipate heat) for the pavement, streets, building can also help cool the general footpath to make it bearable for people to walk.
Since the ‘Green Walk Index’ is still in its pilot stage, WGO will use their experience and collect more insight from professionals and stakeholder to develop a more objective and balanced assessment standard ‘Green Walk Index’ for the future.
The World Green Organisation (WGO) is an independent non-governmental organisation concerned with environmental conservation and environmentally related livelihood and economic affairs by proposing an integrated, three-pronged solution that combines social, environmental, and economic aspects, leading to an environmental revolution. Through science-based policy research and community projects, the WGO aims to enhance the quality of the environment, promote a greener economy, and improve people’s livelihoods. In particular, it will focus on the social concerns of underprivileged groups and on the creation of a green economy to help realise its vision of sustainable development. For more information, please visit http://www.thewgo.org/.
Appendix A: Ten Indicators of Walkability for the ‘Green Walk Index’
Indicator 1: Air Quality
The first walkability indicator is air quality. Although it is difficult to feel the immediate effect and impact of PM2.5 while walking, it is important to consider as it affects the health of those walking. The small size particulates are able to bypass the nose and throat and penetrate deep into the lungs and may enter the circulatory system. That is why WGO is measuring the PM2.5 in the air and comparing it to the standard (annual average of PM2.5 should not be more than 35 ug/m3) set in the EPD’s ‘Air Quality Objectives’.
Indicator 2: Ventilation
Ventilation is calculated mainly by measuring the wind speed at the checkpoint. Wind speed is important as it can help to disperse pollutants and affect the rate of heat dissipation in the body. According to the Planning Department’s ‘Urban Climatic Map and Standards for Wind Environment’, wind speed must reach the level of ‘soft wind’ on the Beaufort scale (one meter per second) for pedestrians to reach thermal comfort.
Indicator 3: Acoustic Environment
Acoustic Environment measures the sound level of a specific checkpoint. The sound level at each checkpoint cannot exceed 70dB (standard set by EPD). 70dB is the sound level of a generic vacuum cleaner. There are no health consequences at 70dB but it may distract people and make them not be able to concentrate. When the sound level rises above 70dB, hearing and health can be affected. It becomes difficult to communicate as 30% of conversation may not be heard and understood. High sound levels can also affect the body’s ability to effectively consume vitamins C, B1, B2, B6 and amino acids, as well as other nutrients which can cause the body’s immune function to decline. Research from international communities found that an increase of one decibel can increase the chances of hypertension by 3%.
Indicator 4: Green Cover
As we all know, vegetation helps to absorb carbon dioxide in the air during the day. The greenery not only makes the air cleaner by creating oxygen but can also help to absorb ultraviolet light which is harmful to the eyes. The greenery’s ability to reflect light (dark green reflects light at 47% whereas cyan reflects 36%) can help relieve eyestrain by not stimulating the retinal tissue in the cerebral cortex and eyes as intensively which makes the individual more relaxed.
Indicator 5: Crowdedness
According to the Planning Department, maximum number of pedestrians in a walkway should not be more than 23. Therefore, to pass the walkability test for this category, the footpath must have less than 23 pedestrians/minute/m. This category also looks at whether the walking footpath is free of any obstruction and bypassing in a unidirectional stream.
Indicator 6: Walking Safety
Many people in Hong Kong have cars as evident from the frequent traffic jams. This is why ensuring pedestrian safety is important. There should be various streetwalking facilities that allow safe the passage of pedestrians in order to encourage the public to walk more. This indicator looks at whether there are any zebra crossings, ‘green man’ crossing, subways, and footbridges in a 15 meter visual radius.
Indicator 7: Signage
At the moment, street name signs are on the wall of both sides of the road as well as most road junctions. Some of the street signs are more than 400 meters away from each other. WGO believes that additional street name plates should be installed every 200 meters for people who are not familiar with the area. As Hong Kong people are often in a rush, they are not aware of the public facilities or attractions that are around them. In order to attract more people to the area, there should be pedestrian signage and information boards in additional to street name signs. To pass this indicator, there has to be signage within visual range.
Indicator 8: Recreational and Resting Facilities
In accordance to the Planning Department, recreational facilities include open resting areas that are specifically designed for recreation or rest. They provide rest for the neighbourhood and are often newly renovated with some greenery. Suitable resting facilities such as public resting areas, playgrounds and parks are necessary to encourage the public to walk more as people may get tired depending on their level of physical fitness or the weather. This indicator will be measured by whether there are any sitting out areas, children playground, amenities, and parks within the visual range.
Indicator 9: Pedestrian-friendly Facilities
Most roads in Hong Kong are designed more for roads rather than pedestrians. As a result, many facilities for footpaths are not well thought out. In particular, most of the walking paths do not have any shade, making it difficult to walk through. As mentioned above, this year’s survey found that 50% of respondents did not want to walk because of the weather. Air quality is affected by outside factors and the hot weather. As temperatures continue to rise with climate change, more shade and cover from the sun and rain is needed. There should also be more facilities such as water dispensers, public toilets, street lights, specifically for pedestrians to help reduce the effect of weather and promote public walking. This category will be assessed by visually observing the availability of pedestrian-friendly facilities at each checkpoints.
Indicator 10: Waste Management
In response the EPD’s implementation of the municipal solid waste changing scheme in 2019, WGO is encouraging the public to increase recycling by adding this indicator in the ‘Green WALK Score’. This indicator checks whether there are recycling bins within the vicinity. Through this, WGO hopes to increase recycling, reduce waste, and improve hygiene of the area cause by rubbish left on the street.