If you do any running on the streets of Hong Kong, weaving in and out of crowds has become easier of late.
The reason: a lot of those metal railings that line large sections of pedestrian pavements are gone, dismantled and removed by protesters.
The metal fences are installed by the government all over Hong Kong’s streets, ostensibly to keep people from crossing outside pedestrian crossings, to protect pedestrians from vehicles, and possibly also to dissuade vans and trucks from unloading goods.
Instead, the railings end up wasting precious space on already narrow and packed pavements. They also create unnecessary bottlenecks, as pedestrians are forced to cross the road strictly within the designated area, preventing people from spreading out along the pavement when crowds are dense.
It's rush hour in Hong Kong and there's no bottleneck at this crosswalk because the horrid metal barriers are gone, dismantled by protesters. Now the passageway is widened & people can actually get on the pavement quickly. pic.twitter.com/ttNuRS3X3q— Mary Hui (@maryhui) September 5, 2019
The fences are not designed to protect people from wayward cars, either. As landscape architect Melissa Cate Christ told Zolima Citymag: “They are not built to withstand car crashes.” Instead, as the author of the article, Christopher DeWolf, notes, “It’s the other way around: the railings are meant to block pedestrians from getting in the way of car.”
Running on the urban streets has often meant jumping on and off pavements, weaving in between pedestrians, hopping onto the road to avoid crowds when the coast is clear, then jumping back onto a pavement when cars pass by.
Yet the ubiquitous fences make this notoriously difficult. Sometimes you jump off the pavement to get around a crowd, only to be forced to stay on the road for much longer than you would like because the fences continue.
Other times you try to weave to the side of someone, only to realise there would be enough space if the railing hadn’t eaten up some 30 or 40 centimetres of the pavement. Often, I find myself thinking: this run would be so much safer and smoother if only these railings disappeared.
With this summer’s anti-government protests, many of those railings have indeed disappeared. Protesters have dismantled hundreds, perhaps thousands, with Allen keys, to help construct barricades. Politics aside, the protesters have inadvertently done wonders for the urban walkability of Hong Kong.
Don't put railings back! It looks better. It is easier to cross. It is safer (easier to get off the road). Make Hong Kong more walkable! (Protesters removed railings to create barricades. Government removed them from likely protest areas). #DesigningHongKong #WalkHK #NoRailings pic.twitter.com/HAaVlXaUqg— paul zimmerman (@DesigningHK) July 29, 2019
As Paul Zimmerman, co-founder and CEO of non-profit Designing Hong Kong, recently wrote in an email newsletter (also published in September’s issue of Southside Magazine), the protesters have “completely changed” the dynamic on the city’s pavements.
“The railings are gone. Near my office it has improved road safety. Formal crossings along Des Voeux Road are far between, so everyone crosses everywhere. But not everywhere you could get back to the pavement. Now you can.”
He called on the government to take this opportunity to rethink its railings policy.
“Don’t put the guardrails back,” Zimmerman wrote. “Why give protesters another chance to reuse them? Where there is a need to deter parking, use bollards. Let’s monitor how people respond.
“We will find that the kerb itself is enough to let people know where they are safe, and where they need to negotiate with vehicles. Trust Hongkongers.”