Dear Mr. Know-It-All, Why did they build the Central–Mid-Levels escalator? – Travelator Trevor You know all the usual factoids, no doubt: the Central–Mid-Levels escalator is the world’s longest outdoor escalator system. It runs for 800m, ascending 135m from Des Voeux Road Central up to Conduit Road. Here’s what you might not know. The Central–Mid-Levels escalator was proposed as a pragmatic, low-tech solution to a Hong Kong problem: traffic. Rush-hour congestion was blocking up everywhere between the Mid-Levels and Central. The thinking was that if people had an easy way down to Central, they would stop driving to work. Cheap, easily maintained and covered all the way: good for anything short of a typhoon. Construction of the escalator began in February 1991 with a budget of about $97 million, not accounting for inflation. Costs soon spiraled out of control, and that number was scaled upwards on five separate occasions. The final construction costs of the project came in at $253 million. The costs were such that in an October 1996 report, the Director of Audit censured the entire project as “a costly white elephant,” saying that it had not reduced traffic at all. Not reduced traffic? In a way, that’s very true. When it opened in October 1993, the plan was for the escalator to carry about 26,000 people a day. As of 2010, 85,000 people a day set foot on the system. Hong Kong’s traffic may still suck, but with its regular stopping points, the escalator transformed Central, inspiring a move away from the insularity of the Central–Mid-Levels worldview. A “white elephant”? If the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge end up like the escalator did, then bring on those pale pachyderms. Genius cinematographer and general rake Christopher Doyle used to have a flat overlooking the escalator—it’s the one Faye Wong cleans in Wong Kar-wai’s 1994 “Chungking Express.” The story goes that Doyle was in the habit of wandering around his flat in the nude, flashing anyone who happened to look in on their way to work. The phrase “white elephant” takes on a whole new significance, wouldn’t you agree? Mr. Know-It-All answers your questions and quells your urban concerns. Send queries, troubles or problems to email@example.com .