My Take

Yau Tsim Mong council's curb on pedestrian zone a wrong step

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 November, 2013, 4:17am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 November, 2013, 4:17am

Many cities in developed economies pedestrianise more and more roads once monopolised by cars. Hong Kong is doing the same, albeit slowly, but still in the right direction. So the Yau Tsim Mong District Council has set a bad example in deciding Sai Yeung Choi Street shall no longer be restricted to use by pedestrians on weekday evenings, but only at weekends.

There clearly needs to be greater street-level control and management to make the zone work. But the council's decision effectively lets the cars and heavy trucks back in and squeezes people back onto narrow pavements. It's a serious step backwards.

Having said this, outsiders should respect some local shop operators and residents who have complained about the noise and nuisance caused by salesmen and promoters, street performers and political activists. Outsiders shouldn't be so arrogant as to dismiss their legitimate complaints when we don't live or work there. Your vibrant street life may be someone else's daily nightmare.

Those noise makers wouldn't have thought of doing it in expensive areas like Central or The Peak because they know residents and workers there would have called in the cops to clear them out in no time. The thing about popular but lower-income neighbourhoods like Mong Kok is that everyone thinks they are entitled to their comings-and-goings and have every right to disturb as they please.

Between the extremes of free-for-all pedestrianisation and letting cars back in, there are more sensible options.

The government must end its double standard on enforcement, which means inspectors are overzealous in going after hawkers while allowing aggressive salesmen for internet and mobile-phone services to block pavements and harass passers-by with virtual impunity. Not all street performers are equal; greater restrictions should be imposed to shield neighbours from unnecessary disturbances. Political groups should also be more considerate in organising activities.

The Transport Department has pedestrianisation schemes in 10 of the city's 18 districts, the vast majority of which are a great success. There is no reason the one in Sai Yeung Choi Street shouldn't work.