Reinvigorate Hong Kong with more pedestrian-only zones

Repeated trials, such as the one on Des Voeux Road Central on Sunday, will help ease irrational fears and build public support

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 September, 2016, 12:48am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 September, 2016, 12:48am

It says something about the urban dominance of traffic that when a stretch of Des Voeux Road in Central was cleared of vehicles and turned over to just trams and people for a few hours last Sunday, up popped picnic tables and benches, children’s arts, crafts and reading groups, splash pools, street football and more. That shows the potential for vibrant, people friendly retail street malls free of the gridlock of stop-start vehicles, not to mention cleaner air. Alas, that prospect is likely to have to wait until after the Central-Wan Chai bypass, still under construction, transforms the flow of east-west traffic.

In an unprecedented experiment with public space and planning, 200 metres of Des Voeux Road Central, from Wing On department store to Western Market, was “pedestrianised” from 10am to 4pm. Patrick Fung Kin-wai, of leading co-organiser Clean Air Network, said the ultimate aim was to have the entire stretch from Central to Western rezoned for trams and pedestrians only, as envisaged by the Institute of Planners in 2000. Part of the Central-Wan Chai bypass is set for completion next year, while a finish date for the rest of it is under review. Meanwhile, Sunday’s organisers should partner with the government in more of these experiments to explore the way ahead.

Major Hong Kong street to go car free this weekend – but city ‘lagging behind’ New York and London

Pedestrianisation is to be found in pockets of some of our busiest districts, such as Jardine Crescent and Russell Street in Causeway Bay. Indeed, such is the congestion that it would surprise many that the city currently has seven full-time pedestrian schemes and 30 part-time ones.

In the past the need to keep traffic flowing east-west on Hong Kong Island has hindered serious consideration of pedestrian malls in main thoroughfares along with anti-traffic-congestion measures such as electronic road pricing. ERP and pedestrianisation will continue to encounter opposition and scepticism even after the bypass is opened, more out of fear of the unknown and misguided self-interest than reason. Repeated trials will help ease these fears and build public support.