HKFP Voices Travel & Transport

Pedestrianising Central? Maybe leave street gatherings to the Occupy kids

On Sunday, I paid a visit to ‘Very DVRC’, a trial initiative to pedestrianise Des Voeux Road Central. The idea was first proposed by the Hong Kong Institute of Planners in 2000 and was to originally convert 1.4 kilometres of this east-west thoroughfare from motorised to pedestrian traffic. ‘Very DVRC’ itself covered 200 metres and one could sense the slow-turning cogs of government, the dilution of the vision, the compromises to actuality that have occurred over 16 years.

Yet the website looked interesting, so it was in buoyant expectation that I approached by tram to be deposited in the heart of the action. On alighting, I came across the harsh reality that there wasn’t much (action), and the space had scant feeling of being a pedestrian thoroughfare.

very DVRC car free Central CAN designing HK

Photo: Ellie Ng/HKFP.

If you were a traffic cone manufacturer or a supplier of plastic police tape, you’d have been dancing in the streets. Cones were set-up every one-and-a-half paces either side of the tram tracks and only one traffic lane east and west was given over to ‘pop-up’ events. On frequent arrival at a cross-street, where traffic continued with its normal frenzy, we were herded onto the usual inadequate pavements to be beset by the ambulatory texters and umbrella (used as shade) brigade and bundled in waiting – behind even more tape – until the little man turned green. Mostly, I saw red. It was just another downtown Sunday, though rather more regimented and claustrophobic.

I arrived at 11.00am as most of the mini-events were still being set-up. Why? We’ve been waiting 16 years for this and ‘Very DVRC’ was billed to start at 10.00am. If, at the Hong Kong Sevens, the Fijian team are on the pitch still strolling around in sulus and sandals two minutes before their opening game the punters would get twitchy.

very DVRC car free Central CAN designing HK

Photo: Ellie Ng/HKFP.

Well, perhaps the answer to ‘why’ above is that the ‘pop-up’ people are just an amorphous bunch who support the concept and were given late notice of participation. I came across one ‘gallery’ of photos on-site, all the same format, of traditional shop fronts; pictures taken in the late 1980s. Each had a detailed (I presume) caption in Chinese. I asked the young chap running this why there was no English translation. He said that they only had notice of a ‘space’ three weeks ago.

“But you could translate and typeset in 21 days. This is Hong Kong!” He kindly suggested he talk me through each picture. I politely averred, and asked if I could sit at a stool on the table that he’d made part of his area.

“Sure.” So I went to a street-side Wellcome and from the fridge grabbed a cold can of  Tsing Tao and sat on the stool watching the traffic hurtle across Hillier Street. That was a street experience, although I’m not sure the ‘Clean Air Network’, a lead organiser, would have thought it so. And who was this Des Voeux chap anyway, the historical figure who gave his name to the thoroughfare? An answer to that would have been enlightening, in context.

very DVRC car free Central CAN designing HK

Photo: Ellie Ng/HKFP.

Look, I dunno. My hat is off to the stalwart citizens, voluntary all, who put this together but I’ve been to better street gatherings on the Harcourt Road flyover. Perhaps, next time, there may be a few students who could network to close down a Central thoroughfare in 16 minutes. More canisters than cones would likely result but, if tear gas has less particulates than carbon monoxide, our road-side pollution monitors might suggest environmental success, at last.

Pedestrianising Central? Maybe leave street gatherings to the Occupy kids