Written Comments to the Town Planning Board Regarding S.12A Application No. Y/H3/7, ‘Improving the Pedestrian Environment of Des Voeux Road Central’

In response to DVRC Initiative’s application to the Town Planning Board (Application No. Y/H3/7), Civic Exchange is writing to express our strong support of the application and of the arguments in favour of the applicant’s proposal.

Arguments for improving air quality
Civic Exchange wants to emphasise the poor state of roadside air quality in the application site, which should be a matter of concern for urban planners. According to a recent research report published by Civic Exchange and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, daily average PM2.5 concentrations along Des Voeux Road Central and Queensway exceed World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines on almost 280 days a year and over 200 days a year, respectively. The main sources of PM2.5 include diesel commercial vehicles such as franchise buses and heavy goods vehicles, as well as other road vehicles like private cars.

From a health protection point of view, the most effective way to reduce roadside air pollution is to take polluting vehicles off the road in order to reduce pedestrians’ exposure to emissions. Des Voeux Road Central carries heavy pedestrian flows. A traffic study in 2013 recorded peak pedestrian flows of up to 1,160 pedestrians per 15 minutes at noon during weekdays, and up to 850 per 15 minutes on weekends. Over the course of a day, thousands of people are exposed to roadside pollutants.

To this end, Civic Exchange supports the applicant’s proposal for temporary closure of the east-west portions Des Voeux Road (e.g. excluding the north-south cross roads) on Sundays with a view to working towards permanent pedestrianisation in the long term.
Arguments for improving the quality of the public realm

Civic Exchange supports the applicant’s view that pedestrianising Des Voeux Road Central; between Pedder Street and Morrison Street would provide a better outdoor environment for pedestrians, bring vibrancy to the district, and create quality public open space which can be used for outdoor seating, al fresco dining, street markets, performances and community events, benefiting the general public, the community, and business operators along the road.

According to figures provided by the Planning Department, as at 2012, Central and Western District had 54.6 ha of open space, which amounted to 2.2m2 per person and barely met the 2m2 stipulated by the Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines. This includes only the residential population and not the large worker population. Shortage of local open space is acute, with just 0.6m2 of local open space per resident. The district is very densely built-up with a lack of greening, notably in the central business district, Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun. Pedestrianising Des Voeux Road even on a temporary basis on Sundays would alleviate this shortage and provide new relaxation and recreation opportunities.

In the long term, permanent pedestrianisation with significant upgrading of the public realm, street furniture, and greening would boost Central’s image and create a world-class pedestrian precinct on par with Times Square in New York City or Las Ramblas in Barcelona. This would provide benefits for Hong Kong’s international image, boosting tourism and retail and dining business in Central.

Arguments concerning transport
Civic Exchange supports the applicant’s proposal to retain tram service along the closed/pedestrianised portion of Des Voeus Road Central as an environmentally-friendly transport mode. The electric tram does not produce emissions on the ground and the reduction in vehicular traffic would reduce roadside noise pollution in Des Voeux Road Central.

In addition to the environmental benefits, improving Central’s walkability would reduce demand for vehicular traffic there and improve the accessibility of its destinations. The retention of north-south vehicular flow and the tram service would retain accessibility for those unable to walk long distances, such as the elderly, while reducing factors which currently discourage walking such as narrow and crowded pavements, obstructions by street furniture, pedestrian-vehicle conflict, and lack of seating and shading.

New transport infrastructure currently under construction, including the West Island MTR line, the Central Wan Chai Bypass, the South Island Line and the Shatin-Central Railway would reduce the demand for vehicular traffic in Central overall, enabling the Government to carry out the traffic diversions and bus route rationalisation necessary to transform Des Voeux Road Central into a pedestrian precinct.