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Traffic and road safety in Hong Kong

Hong Kong pedestrian zone to be scrapped after more than 1,000 complaints about Mong Kok street performers

Sai Yeung Choi Street South to be reopened to traffic after area becomes free-for-all for entertainers, prompting grumbles from residents

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 May, 2018, 12:27pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 May, 2018, 8:45pm

The days are numbered for one of Hong Kong’s busiest street performance areas after district councillors agreed to suspend it, following more than 1,200 complaints by residents last year.

But politicians were divided on how long Sai Yeung Choi Street South, in Mong Kok, should stay reopened to traffic. Pro-establishment councillor Chan Siu-tong said it should be indefinitely, while the Civic Party’s Andy Yu Tak-po preferred a temporary suspension of the pedestrian precinct scheme until the government could come up with a licensing plan for performers.

“I agree to suspend it … but cancelling the scheme indefinitely would not solve the problem, because the street performers would just move to other pedestrian zones such as Tsim Sha Tsui,” Yu told a radio programme on Thursday.

The Mong Kok pedestrian zone scheme was launched in 2000. Sai Yeung Choi Street South and sections of other nearby roads were closed to traffic to boost shopping and other commercial activity in the busy district.

But in 2013, the government restricted the scheme to just weekends and public holidays at the request of the Yau Tsim Mong District Council after residents complained about noise and safety issues.

Why Mong Kok pedestrian area should be closed to noisy performers

In 2016, the issue of unlicensed hawkers on nearby Portland Street became a flashpoint for the Mong Kok riot. A government crackdown during the Lunar New Year holiday escalated into violent clashes between police and protesters.

On Thursday, Chan said the council would meet next week to end the pedestrian zone indefinitely because the problems had worsened.

“There are now salespeople from telecoms companies setting up lots of street booths there, and the quality of some street performers … is just so bad. Residents cannot bear it even for a few hours at weekends,” Chan said.

The government received more than 1,200 complaints about noise last year. A survey commissioned by the Liberal Party found that performances on Sai Yeung Choi Street South on Saturday nights were as loud as 101.5 decibels.

Pedestrian zone proves tough sell to shopkeepers in Hong Kong business district

Chan said he regretted supporting the scheme back in 2000.

“The Transport Department said at the time that shopping would become relaxing … We were too naive and fell into this trap,” he said.

But Yu countered that while the scheme should be halted for now, the government should consider a licensing scheme for performers, following the example of the one in place at the West Kowloon Cultural District, a dedicated arts hub.

“More than 300 licences were issued for the cultural district, and there are officers monitoring the situation,” Yu said.

Yau Tsim Mong District Council, dominated by pro-government politicians, will vote next Thursday on a motion to end the scheme, and the government is likely to act accordingly if it is passed.

Kim Hung, 52, a street performer since 2004, has been singing with his band Hung Lok Goon in the pedestrian area for seven years. He said he was “disappointed to the point of being speechless” at the closure, and authorities should have properly managed the area.

Three years ago, when the Transport Department decided to restrict pedestrian hours to weekends and public holidays, he was part of an opposition campaign by street performers. 

“We suggested to the authorities that all performers be equipped with a decibel meter, and that once the reading exceeded 85 decibels – the ceiling set by the environmental watchdog – we should lower the noise,” he said.

But the idea was not acted on by the government or district council.

He said the situation had deteriorated since middle-aged women had begun to gather in the street to dance to loud music.

However, he had no plans this time to resist the closure, he said, and would find a new place to perform. 

“But I would like to remind the authority of the potential impact on shops in the area,” he said.

Alva Leung Lok-hei, a street performer who used to sing on a footbridge near the zone, disagreed with the idea of a licensing system.

“Art is not necessarily good or bad,” Leung said. “How can a panel set up by the government, usually comprising representatives from different industries, be qualified to judge street performers?”

Additional reporting by Su Xinqi