There is no better way to feel the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong's business district than a stroll along Des Voeux Road Central. Crammed with shops, offices and bus stops, the thoroughfare is one of the most crowded in Central. The daily scene of vehicles, shoppers and pedestrians jostling for every inch of space along the street provides good grounds for a rethink of the city's urban planning and transportation.
Credit goes to a group of planners and researchers for their bright idea - transforming a key part of the road into a tree-lined boulevard for use by pedestrians and trams only. Under the proposal, the section stretching from Pedder Street to Morrison Street would be closed to all vehicles except delivery and bank security vans and emergency vehicles. Dozens of bus routes would be diverted to adjacent streets. There would be areas to sit out and landscaping features, along with a centrepiece in which the tram tracks would be transformed into a carpet of fresh grass.
The vision is not new. A similar idea by the Institute of Planners was floated in 2000. One has to wonder why it is still on the drawing board 14 years later. Understandably, the proposal involves careful government planning and consultation with stakeholders. There will be opposition from some. But it means less polluting traffic, wider pedestrian pavements and, above all, more breathing space for all. The inconvenience is outweighed by the benefits.
Sadly, even if the blueprint is accepted by the government, the public must wait until 2020 for it to materialise. Planners believe that the opening of the new subway in Island West and the Central-Wan Chai bypass over the next few years will help divert traffic, which is crucial to winning community support for the project.
Hong Kong aspires to be Asia's world city but is nowhere near other metropolises, where pedestrian zones have long been recognised as an important element in urban planning. A facelift for Des Voeux Road is a good way to catch up.