Perhaps it matters little to most people, but from earlier this month, it has been possible to safely cross Salisbury Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, between The Peninsula hotel and the Space Museum, after the reopening of a pedestrian crossing. No more detours. No more having to use a subway and getting lost. One link has been reconnected. It’s a rare victory for pedestrians in a city where vehicles have taken priority for a long time.
For most pedestrians, however, it’s not about the victory; it’s simply a matter of being able to use the junction as a pedestrian. The crossing was removed in 2004; traffic-flow considerations were cited as the reason. From then on, locals and tourists alike were often left in limbo at the junction, surrounded by railings, desperate for help.
The only safe option to get across Salisbury Road was to take an escalator down to a shopping mall and navigate through a long, bland tunnel and more shops, before finding another escalator back up to street level. If you were carrying luggage or pushing a stroller, your journey would be even more challenging. It has taken almost a decade to reinstate the crossing, with pressure gathering momentum over the past two years.
Both pedestrians and vehicles (including bicycles) are supposed to share space. No one is fighting a battle here. Indeed, for those who believe in peoplebased city planning, this is a process to engage policymakers, traffic engineers, district councilors and other stakeholders, and foster a long-term partnership.
It is also an opportunity to challenge the old paradigm, to influence change, and eventually answer pedestrian needs and aspirations. The vision that drives the process forward is simply a desire to make it easier to walk around Hong Kong, and thus encourage people to do so more regularly, and for longer distances; to walk to use public transport rather than drive their own cars, and even to walk directly to their final destinations, distance and time permitting.
This is also a potential route to the grand scheme of sustainable transport planning in the future – a system that would accord top priority to pedestrians for shorter routes, while prioritising efficient public transport for the masses – both on and off the roads – over longer distances, and relegating private cars to the bottom, given their inefficient use of road space and energy. The needs of cyclists should also be addressed whenever and wherever the opportunity arises.
That said, deep-seated policy changes require real leadership and determination. More often than not, it is about taking a first, experimental step outside the comfort zone.
The then mayor of London, Ken Livingston, put his political future on the line with his road-pricing scheme for the capital, and never looked back. Michael Bloomberg, as New York mayor, decided to pedestrianise some of the busiest streets in the Big Apple with temporary road signs and markings. The city is now making them permanent.
Judging by the number of pedestrians now using the reopened Salisbury Road crossing, the Transport Department has definitely made the right move. Are we ready for the next step?