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City Weekend

Bringing the streets back to Hong Kong people by putting brakes on vehicles

The plan to get cars and buses off Des Voeux Road Central and transform the area into a pedestrian-tram green zone will focus on the Western section, says Markus Shaw

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 January, 2018, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 January, 2018, 12:00pm

Walk DVRC, an NGO that has set its sights on “bringing the street back to the people”, hopes to convince the government to pedestrianise Des Voeux Road Central, one of the busiest roads in Hong Kong’s core business district, for at least three months at the end of the year.

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Its chairman and the man behind the initiative, Markus Shaw, says the plan to take cars off the streets and transform the area into a pedestrian-tram green zone will focus on the Western section, from Western Market to Hillier Street, because “the traffic there is quite easy to deal with”.

“We hope to have a trial scheme in place for the section of Des Voeux Road Central by the end of this year,” Shaw says. “A three-month trial scheme of that section will be a great thing for all concerned.

“What we are proposing is to keep one lane for traffic … But the other three lanes to be returned to pedestrians. We also want to keep the tram.”

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The organisation, which was formed in 2015 by several environmental concern groups such as Clean Air Network and Designing Hong Kong, aims to bring the 1.4km (0.9-mile) section of Des Voeux Road Central “back to its people for enjoyment and for the good of the city”.

It was formally set up as an NGO last year. Shaw, a former chairman of WWF Hong Kong, says the inspiration came after he left the international nature conservation group.

“Since leaving WWF, I decided to focus more on the urban environment, which I think for a city like Hong Kong is as important as the natural environment,” he says.

Des Voeux Road Central itself and the areas around it are in an appalling state. The side streets are unsafe, smelly and messy
Markus Shaw, Walk DVRC chairman

Walk DVRC’s latest initiative follows a similar event it held in September 2016, when part of Des Voeux Road Central became a car-free zone for a day.

The trial drew 14,000 people and was backed by most businesses in the area as well as policymakers.

Shaw says the reason for focusing on Des Voeux Road Central for now is that “fixing the main road will revitalise the Central business district”, which the Hong Kong-raised 58-year-old describes as “messy and chocked with traffic”.

He adds: “In many respects, the Central business district is such a mess. Des Voeux Road Central itself and the areas around it are in an appalling state. The side streets are unsafe, smelly and messy.”

The idea of taking cars off the streets in Central first came almost 18 years ago, but fizzled out. It was revived in 2014 in a joint study by the Institute of Planners, City University, the Civic Exchange think tank and MVA Hong Kong, a transport and planning consultancy.

Shaw says it is now the right time to pedestrianise Central because of several ongoing revitalisation projects in the area such as heritage and arts centre Tai Kwun and Central Market. Asked if he is planning on expanding his project to other parts of Hong Kong, Shaw says: “One thing at a time.”