Escalator plan in Western under attack

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 December, 2007, 12:00am

Councillor criticises design of link; residents say it's a waste of money

The design of an escalator link to be built along one of Hong Kong's steepest streets is causing controversy.

The proposed 100-metre escalator on Centre Street in Sai Ying Pun would run between Third Street and Bonham Road. Construction is expected to last two years from mid-2009.

Under a revised plan put forward by the government, the link would comprise four sections. Each of the three sections between Third Street and Ying Wah Terrace would be built on an existing carriageway, running one-way uphill, while the highest section between Ying Wah Terrace and Bonham Road would be built on an existing footpath, running two-way uphill and downhill.

The revamped proposal also adds stair-lifts along the footway from Third Street to Bonham Road to enable people in wheelchairs to use the escalators.

The Transport Department and the Highways Department issued letters this month to consult residents and business owners on the plan.

The steepest point of the street has a slope of 1:4.

Sidney Lee Chi-hang, Central and Western district councillor of the Centre Street constituency, said many pedestrians had tripped while walking downhill and there should be two-way escalators for the full length of the link to prevent future accidents, while also allowing pedestrians to go upslope comfortably.

'Over 10,000 people walk past Centre Street each day. A lot of residents, not only elders, have tripped on the slope. I myself have tripped there a few times,' Mr Lee said.

However, government inspections found a two-way proposal was not feasible.

The government said the street was densely occupied by underground drains, sewers and other utility installations, leaving inadequate underground space to construct two-way escalators for the whole street.

A spokesman for the Transport Department and the Highways Department said the primary purpose of the escalators was not to prevent tripping but to 'provide a convenient, comfortable, and safe transport link for pedestrians to travel'.

The government expects patronage of 14,000 a day and hopes the escalators will help reduce public demand for motorised transport in the Mid-Levels. The construction cost is estimated at HK$38 million and annual maintenance at HK$700,000.

Wong Kui-fung, 64, who has been living and running a boutique on the street for more than 20 years, said the escalators would not help elderly people walk up the steep street more than widened stairs would. He also said modern escalators would ruin the classical scene of the district.

'Many tourists come here and take pictures of this pre-colonial street,' Mr Wong said. 'Streets built along steep hills were characteristic of Hong Kong Island. We should preserve these icons.'

Rosa Lo Sui-ying, who has been operating a locksmith stall on the street for a decade, criticised the plan as a waste of public money. 'It is so stupid! Why don't they pave the street with slip-proof materials instead?' Both Mr Wong and Ms Lo are worried that escalators would block pedestrians from seeing their shops.