Carrie Lam must join drive for zone free of cars

In a city not friendly to pedestrians, proposals to ban traffic from part of business district will be welcomed by many

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 September, 2017, 1:29am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 September, 2017, 1:29am

Hong Kong’s can-do spirit is often seen as one of the many things that sets the city apart from others. Yet we are still grappling with a lot of issues that seem simple to outsiders. Making part of Central a car-free zone is an example. The idea has been repeatedly discussed for so many years that one has to wonder why it still has not been given the green light.

Our vehicle-first mentality immediately springs to mind. Unlike in many countries where drivers are expected to stop for those crossing the road, here it is the opposite. Adding to the problem is strong resistance from business and a lack of political will from government departments. That is why, despite study after study, we are still tiptoeing around the issue.

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

Credit goes to Walk DVRC, a new non-governmental organisation, for giving the idea another push. Under the proposal forwarded to the Transport Department for consideration, part of Des Voeux Road Central, from Hillier Street to Morrison Street, would be free of cars and buses on certain weekends and public holidays. A study of the impact it would have on traffic and logistics is being carried out in an attempt to convince the government that the plan is feasible.

Similar ideas were raised by the Institute of Planners and others as early as 2000, although they never went further than an experiment last year in which a stretch of Des Voeux Road Central was closed to cars and buses for six hours on a single Sunday. It was apparently a great success, with people enjoying themselves for a few hours in the heart of the business district.

Feet first: section of one of Hong Kong’s busiest roads to become a car-free zone for one day

That the current initiative has not come from the government but an NGO is to be regretted. Although there are currently dozens of full-time and part-time pedestrian areas across city, it is far from being pedestrian-friendly.

The group has rightly appealed to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to step in, saying high-level intervention is needed to get around departmental bureaucracy. Given Lam was previously the development minister and is familiar with planning issues, it is to be hoped that the proposal will be well received this time.