Car-free Central? Hong Kong campaigners want key road reserved for trams and pedestrians

Activists rally to convert a strip of road from Western Market to Pedder Street into a car-free zone

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 August, 2015, 2:25pm
UPDATED : Monday, 24 August, 2015, 5:37pm

Environmental and urban planning groups are joining hands to press the idea of kicking cars off a key road in Central to reserve it for pedestrians and trams.

The initiative, by green group the Clean Air Network and planning body Designing Hong Kong, serves as a riposte to a proposal by a retired town planner to rip up tram tacks in Central and Admiralty to provide more space for cars and buses.

They suggest making Des Voeux Road Central between Western Market in Sheung Wan and Pedder Street a car-free zone.

About 10 members of the two groups yesterday promoted the idea by tying two parallel green ribbons around their palms to symbolise the tram tracks and their determination to preserve the historic transport system. They marched along Dex Voeux Road Central, chanting: "Walk by the tram and make Central a pedestrian zone!"

Kwong Sum-yin, head of the Clean Air Network, dismissed concerns that the proposal would worsen congestion in the business hub, arguing that Connaught Road Central and Queen's Road Central had spare capacity. She also pointed to the bypass that is due to open in 2017.

"The proposal can reduce air pollution, and the Central-Wan Chai bypass and new rail lines could divert the traffic too," Kwong said, adding that a number of overseas cities had made their city centres car-free zones.

Paul Zimmerman, CEO of Designing Hong Kong, said the "fantastic" plan would make Central a popular place. "This would be a green heart of Central, and it would be the most popular area for people to go shopping. You can't imagine anything better really."

But some members of the public were sceptical.

"The plan may not work because Central is very busy during weekdays, with private and commercial cars coming in," said one woman. "It may bring convenience to the pedestrians but we also have to consider vehicles."

"Of course it would be great if only pedestrians can walk on the road, but I am afraid the traffic would be even more congested" said Man Tang, who works in Central.

READ MORE: You must be off your trolley: Proposal to derail Hong Kong’s iconic trams to ease traffic in Central meets online opposition

Kwong said the groups would submit the proposal to the Town Planning Board soon.

The board has scheduled a meeting for October 23 to discuss the idea put forward by planner-turned-consultant Sit Kwok-keung of removing the trams, which has caused a public outcry since it was revealed earlier this month. The government has distanced itself from the idea.

Watch: A journey through history: the ups and downs of Hong Kong's beloved tram