Urban planning

Making Hong Kong a walkable city, one step at a time

Ian Brownlee says the success of events creating car-free areas is a case for more pedestrian-friendly zones, and the new South Island MTR line could be an added catalyst

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 November, 2016, 12:16pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 November, 2016, 8:41pm

The opening of the South Island MTR line next month will mean that, for the first time, people from the south of Hong Kong Island will not be totally reliant on road transport. Travel patterns will change away from road traffic, making it the perfect time to make more space available for people to walk.

Making cities more walkable is a focus throughout the world. In early October, Hong Kong hosted the international conference called “Walk21”, featuring wide-ranging presentations about walkable cities and the benefits, implementation problems and processes.

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In Hong Kong, huge numbers walk as part of their daily commute but that walk is often unpleasant. It is crowded and pedestrians lose space to vehicles.

Just prior to Walk21, a number of NGOs organised the first public event on Des Voeux Road Central. The event, “Very DVRC”, closed about four blocks and diverted traffic from 10am to 4pm. It was used for relatively low-key public activities, including street games, music, learning and pure fun.

The area selected for the event has been identified by the Institute of Planners as the first stage of permanent pedestrianisation of Des Voeux Road Central. This experiment showed how traffic could be diverted, and helped understand how a pedestrian scheme could be modified to make everything work.

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Clean Air Network, one of the organising NGOs, carried out an assessment of the event, including public surveys.

It found that about 14,400 people visited; turnover for 42 shops increased over a normal Sunday; air quality improved markedly; there were no major traffic problems; there were complaints of too many barriers restricting people, and overcrowding in the afternoon.

The success of “Very DVRC” has encouraged the push for permanent improvement of the street for pedestrians.

A set of measures being worked out with the Transport Department should result in additional pedestrian crossings and widened footpaths in many places. Also proposed will be the conversion of some of the blocks used for “Very DVRC” to permanent pedestrian use.

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The space must be shared so that goods vehicles use it at certain times, but pedestrians dominate at others. Some provision for buses and taxis should be made, but not for private vehicles.

The new MTR line will result in the reorganisation of public transport through Central and, with good traffic planning, this can create more space for people permanently.

Ian Brownlee is managing director of Masterplan Limited and a fellow of the Hong Kong Institute of Planners which is promoting pedestrianisation as a public initiative