Epistle to Carrie Lam (1)

Dear Carrie Lam,

Welcome to your new job. Since before you started, you have been the target of a lot of criticism. One of the most consistent is that you are resistant to new ideas.

However, in your thirty years in the civil service, the Hong Kong government has executed many bold new ideas. They built the mid-Levels escalator and a waste compacting plant in a giant cave under Mt. Davis. And, for that matter, in a quiet revolution, the government has made the delivery of its own services almost completely electronic.

The problem is not your government’s ability to execute original, life-improving ideas. So, in the spirit of can-do optimism that characterizes Hong Kong, in this series of posts, I’m going to present a few ideas of my own. These ideas are intended to:

  • Improve the quality of life for Hong Kong people in a day-to-day way.
  • Be bold. There’s nothing like timidity or stopping half way to ruin a good idea.
  • Result in something the HK government can showcase.

Here’s my first: pedestrianise the whole of Tsim Sha Tsui. No, really. All of it. Read on.

Nearly all major cities in the west have large pedestrian precincts. They lead to vibrant inner cities, much lower air pollution, and bustling businesses.

Those cities have much higher car ownership than Hong Kong; here, less than a fifth of the population owns a car. The four fifths who don’t own cars are squished on to narrow pavements that are made crowded by the need for road space for, and forced to breathe the pollution emitted by cars belonging to the one fifth. So more pedestrian precincts in Hong Kong would materially improve our lives, and could be made to do so in such a way as to minimise the inconvenience to the one fifth who do own cars (and who are themselves, at least some of the time, also pedestrians).

Why TST? It’s self-contained in a way that almost no other old part of Hong Kong is. Unlike say, Causeway Bay or Mong Kok, it’s not on the route from somewhere to somewhere else. It’s a destination, not a transit point. So the traffic impact can be more easily predicted and managed. And also, because it’s my own spiritual home in Hong Kong and I think it could be much more pleasant than it is.

Here. courtesy of the omnipresent google, is TST.

TST

It’s full of good stuff for tourists and locals alike – shops, restaurants, hotels, museums. But it’s unpleasant. Drivers trawl around in constant traffic jams, pedestrians are constantly ducking cars, buses and the usual vehicular idiocy. The pavements are jam-packed and the street-level pollution is awful. What should be a fun experience is a chore.

So the idea would be to make everywhere south of Austin Rd, east of Canton Road (with the exception of Kowloon Park Drive), north of Salisbury Rd and west of Chatham Rd, a pedestrian area. Crudely (as I have no other tools available to me):

TST PZ 2

This begs a few questions:

First: Why these boundaries? The thought is this: in order to get people (and vehicles with permits) in and out, it makes sense to allow vehicular access on all sides. The circuit formed by Chatham Rd, Salisbury Rd and Kowloon Park Drive / Canton Rd, and the existing bus terminus at the Star Ferry, do this.

This circuit already has numerous bus stops served my many routes. It has three MTR stations (TST, TST East and Jordan) to ferry people in and out by public transport. And, of course, it has the Star Ferry.

Second: Private cars: where will they park? The main car parks in the area are on the roads in the circuit above: Ocean Terminal and Harbour City on Canton Rd, the new New World Centre on Salisbury Rd., and many in TST East on Chatham Rd.

Within the area itself, there are only two car parks of any size. One is in Austin Tower, which could be served by keeping the first 50m or so of Austin Ave open:

Austin Ave

The second is the much larger car park in the basement of Mirimar Tower on Nathan Rd, of which more in  a moment.

That still leaves hundreds of metered spaces. What about these?

I suggest they go under Kowloon Park. That’s right: under, beneath. Hollow out a huge, artificial cavern and turn it into a combined car park and public transport interchange.

This may sound barmy. But the underlying geology is rock and, if engineers can fit the South Island and the Shatin-Central MTR lines under Admiralty, and the latter also under Hung Hom stations with (thus far) no disruption, surely excavating a huge hole in the bedrock under Kowloon Park is do-able. It will be expensive – but the advantages outweigh the cost.

This also could give access to the Mirimar car park:

Mire Kln Park

Those red lines are intended to indicate tunnels. That little road between Austin Rd and Hillwood Rd that’s so small it doesn’t even have a name would become a steep down ramp into a tunnel that leads to both the Miramar and underground Kowloon Park car parks, and the exit would be on to Austin Rd. The Kimberly Rd exit / entrance to the Miramar car park would be shut (and the landlord allowed to convert it at no land premium to valuable retail space).

Third: Nathan Rd. Be bold! It makes no sense to have a pedestrian area cut in two by a major traffic artery. Extend Kowloon Park into the part of Nathan Rd. north of Haiphong Rd, and turn the part south of Haiphong Rd. into an open mall. Provide covers and sitting-out areas so that it’s pleasant even in rain or strong sunshine. Encourage street food, buskers, that kind of thing.

A lot of buses use Nathan Rd. However, Kowloon Park Drive, Canton Rd and Chatham Rd will have much less traffic as a result of the massive car park, so most buses could be re-routed along these. But also include a public transport interchange in that big hole under Kowloon Park so that services could terminate there, beneath Kowloon Park, at the north of the area, rather than at the Star Ferry or the PIT at TST East Station.

Fourth: Local access within the area can be provided by bikes (like Boris-bikes in London), tricycles and, for those with limited mobility, solar-powered golf carts such as the ones used by the Jockey Club in the Kau Sai Chau public course.

Fifth: Vehicular access for residents and businesses in the area. This is surely no problem. All major cities in the West have huge pedestrian precincts, and management of the permitting and limited traffic access that residents and businesses need is a solvable problem (and one that will require numerous “study trips” by senior civil servants to these cities – listening, guys?).

Sixth: East-to-west public transport. This is a non-objection as there is currently no east-to-west public transport within the area. The government once mooted, however, a monorail from Kowloon Station in West Kowloon running all the way to Hong Hum station. perhaps it’s time to blow the dust off that plan?

Seventh: Carve-outs. The danger of making exceptions is that they soon become the rule, and what started as a bold scheme becomes a timid tweak. But I can see two cases for carve-outs. The first would be the Kimberly Rd / Austin Avenue area, which provides access to two car parks and quite a lot of hotels:

Cut out 1

The idea being that the area south of the red line is pedestrianised and the area north remains as-is.

This has a big impact on the overall pedestrianisation: There are lots of little shops and restaurants in this area that would gain from it. On the flip side, most of the remaining residential stock in TST is in this area, and residents may have a view. (As most don’t drive and have nowhere to park even if they did, I suspect they’d support pedestrianisation.)

The second area is in the south: the three blocks containing the Sheraton, Peninsula and YMCA would gain little from pedestrianisation:

Cut out 2

Middle Rd would remain open to traffic, and traffic would be able to cross Nathan Rd at Middle Rd. The Nathan Rd pedestrian area would start at the red line and extend north.

At first blush, then, it seems that the objections can be overcome. As to the advantages, anyone unconvinced can visit TST on the date of your inauguration, 1st July, when, for a few hours, TST will be fully pedestrianised.


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