Removing pedestrians, not cars, is a perverse air quality solution

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 October, 2008, 12:00am

Having ignored the steady deterioration in air quality for years our government has suddenly come up with the solution: take pedestrians off the streets and force them to take long detours through tunnels and over footbridges ('Pedestrians to rise above, pass under choking traffic', October 16).

What was not mentioned is that as soon as tunnels and footbridges come into operation, street-level crossings are closed down to allow more vehicles to circulate. How this can improve air quality is a mystery. Recycled air circulating in the tunnels is pumped in from outside and air quality on a footbridge over a busy road can only be marginally better than at street level.

To see how this system works visit Tsim Sha Tsui where the waterfront has been cut off from the hinterland since all street-level crossings on Salisbury Road were removed and east separated from west by the closure of the street-level connection in Peking Road. The once brisk walk from the Miramar Hotel to the Star Ferry is now a long trek up and down steps through dank tunnels.

The underpasses planned for Causeway Bay will be lined with shops and built by the MTR. At a time when high street shops are closing does Hong Kong's saturated market need more retail outlets?

The MTR has ambitions to become Hong Kong's largest mall operator. The Causeway Bay street-clearing plan is a not-so-subtle ploy to take shoppers off the streets and into the MTR stores as was done in Mody Road. Promises that the KCR East Rail Tsim Sha Tsui Station would revitalise the area have never materialised. Shops and restaurants even in boom years have had lacklustre business because potential customers are kept well away from them.

Hong Kong people like to be out on the streets and our climate is conducive to a vibrant street scene. The community must now call the government's bluff and demand that it no longer abrogates its duty to ensure that our air is clean. Fewer vehicles through electronic road pricing, zero tolerance on illegal parking, pedestrianisation and wider pavements are some of the solutions. The-out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach of hiding the problem underground must be vigorously opposed.

Mary Melville, Tsim Sha Tsui