Hobson’s Choice

It is difficult enough for even the faster-moving breeds of Hong Kong civil servant to keep up with public opinion. For the flowchart-driven project-management plodders who for decades have been robotically covering land and water with highways, bridges and podiums, it is well-nigh impossible. They are not helped by the time-span of their missions. The time when you could keep life simple by filling in a chunk of harbour and putting ugly public facilities right on the waterfront was not that long ago.  The public mood on planning has changed so swiftly that it is perfectly possible for a big infrastructure project to have started back when no-one gave a damn about aesthetics and be only half-completed by the time the Big Lychee is teeming with eager new conservationists, preservationists, sustainability freaks, oxygen-breathers and other troublemakers.

Thus it is with the Central-Wanchai Bypass, an underground, six-lane freeway designed to speed up the drive from North Point to Central by [correction: to] a grand five minutes at a cost of… It says HK$28 billion here.  When I first read that, I thought, “Wow – that must be a typo.” Then I thought, “Get real.” So 28 billion it obviously is. You get a road above ground thrown in with it.

At some stage between conceptualization, drawing board, reclamation and commencement of tunnel-digging, outraged opponents sprouted apparently out of thin air. Save the harbour and billions of bucks, they said, and just introduce road charging to reduce traffic. This set off alarm bells. Word went out to ram all the legal and other paperwork through as quickly as possible. Transport bureaucrats insisted as if their lives depended on it that road charging alone wouldn’t do because people ‘must have a choice’. By this they meant a choice between roads with a charge and ones without – not between, say, driving and taking the MTR. Perhaps because they don’t take the MTR, the new highway capacity seemed unusually important for senior officials, and no doubt for their friends at Aecom.

The rise of an uppity civil society mid-way through this gargantuan infrastructure project left the officials struggling not only to justify the mess but to put on a hapless show of pretending to let the public have some input. Hence the not merely intelligence-insulting but tragic Public Consultation on Exterior Design of Ventilation Buildings, the subject of a roving exhibition, with glossy brochures, currently underway in the old Central Market.

For the convenience and comfort of the civil servants whizzing their families between Central and North Point in their SUVs five minutes faster, the underground freeway needs huge ventilation outlets occupying lots of space and spewing out lots of fumes above ground. One is planned to go right in front of IFC Mall, on a bit of reclamation barely 100 yards deep that already manages to accommodate, by my count, five roads running east-west (the bypass will emerge from under the ground on the one remaining strip – currently grass – not covered by road).

Folks are not impressed. In fact, the location threatens the view, and therefore the rental yields, from property owned by Sun Hung Kai, which gives me a deep, instinctive feeling that the valiant engineers will find a way to shove the eyesores a bit to one side. But the main point is that someone somewhere seems to seriously imagine that consulting those of us who are not property tycoons on which inane design we prefer for a huge ugly polluting block of concrete makes everything fine.

Here’s your choice, complete with dazzling poetic descriptions

“…adding tenderness to the mass of the building.”  Your tax dollars at work.

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17 Responses to Hobson’s Choice

  1. N says:

    The ridiculousness (is that a word?) of this – both the tunnel and the vent – almost makes almost makes me want to cry.

    But then I console myself in the knowledge that I’ll be out of here in December. Hong Kong’s clueless government and comically bad town planners finally got the better of me. I will miss this wonderful place, but I won’t miss the morons who are slowly but surely driving it into the ground.

    Keep up the good fight, sir.

  2. Jack Russell says:

    You have to wonder what that PR copywriter was smoking.

  3. Norbert Dentressangle Jr says:

    “Exterior Design Option 1: Streamlined Green Roof” looks suspiciously like the set for the ickle kids TV programme “Tellytubbies”.

    I hope it gets the nod as the resulting pilgirism/pilchardism (what is that word?) court case could be quite good fun.

  4. Duncan says:

    I love option 2 – but they missed the bit about it providing ‘.. an aesthetic and pleasingly whimiscal balance to the multi-coloured stacked containers in the terminals across the habour.’

    The whole tunnel complex is of course aimed at getting bothersome traffic away from Admiralty … remind me, where are the new government offices again?

  5. Maugrim says:

    My first reaction was WTF but upon reflection, the term ‘The play of illusion’ is uncannily apt. I’m sure the irony is lost on our civil servants. Unfortunately the reality of this re-modeled crematoria won’t.

  6. TC says:

    Will the police ever start doing anything about those illegally parked cars in the foreground on Finance St?

  7. SepticSceptic says:

    But which one do Hong Kong people actually deserve?

    The ugliest one of course.


  8. Spaz says:

    I’d like to make a completely wild guess that at either ends of the tunnel, and most probably the slip roads en route, there will be gridlock. Something tells me that you can build as many by-passes as you want, the Hiace/Alphard/Taxi/X5/Cayenne f’wits will always try and cut into the lane at the last second, thereby causing a jam.

  9. Revolution says:

    Of course, a cheaper way to sort out congestion in the area covered by the bypass might be to raise the toll on the Cross Harbour Tunnel to the level of, say, the Eastern Harbour Tunnel.

    Various SCMP correspondents have suggested this, and I can’t see why a 2 week trial period wouldn’t be worth a go. We could at least find out whether it would help to equalise the tolls. I can only assume the Goverment does not do this because they are frightened of taxi and truck drivers, i.e vested interests win again, and they are scared that there might actually be a postive effect on traffic flow, making the bypass project useless.

  10. Longtimenosee says:

    If it were Hobson’s Choice, then we would have the option of not having anything done.

  11. CarOwner says:

    Actually, ban all private vehicles from the Central Harbour tunnel thus only allowing buses, taxis, lorries and tourist coaches. Even at peak hours only.

    Voila! All vehicles using the new bypass will be at ‘the right ends i.e. approaches from the Eastern Harbour or Western crossings. Congestion will be reduced.

  12. Tony says:

    Well, actually the Government says that travelling from North Point to Central will be cut to five minutes, not sped up by five minutes. What they don’t know is that the addition of a new bypass will invite more traffic, so we may need another bypass shortly after 2017.

  13. gweipo says:

    I once spent an hour on the new piece of road between IFC and Wanchai exhibition centre. I could have walked the distance about 7 times in that hour…

  14. Donald Tsang says:

    My loyal subjects, please understand that my unelected friends and I seem to be ‘damned if we do and damned if we don’t’ on this issue. You little people are always complaining about the so-called “wall effect” and a resulting lack of air circulation in the civil servants Legoland – or the place you call ‘Central’. So in collaboration with my friends the property developers, I plan to install this ‘giant air movement’ tower, which will extract precious air from underneath the ground and push it up into the tender environment above. Picture the sights:- the yellowish wind blowing through the hair of the young bespectacled kiddies playing (no ball games please) in the open concrete spaces surrounding the tower; the beautiful sight of HK$0.50 plastic bags dancing in the exhaust breeze like that scene in American Beauty; Chrissie Chau’s bikini strings flapping in a trail behind her as she walks along the harbourfront towards the latest “book fair”. Don’t you see – this will reinforce our status as a world class special economic region. Further, the giant air movement tower will form a perfect canvass on which to place our helpful government banners such as the ones reminding you to “stay out of the water when the shark signal is raised”. And, unbelievably, still people complain! Sometimes I wonder why I bother drip-feeding you highly fancilful ‘artists impressions’ of our concrete boxes under the pretence of consultation, when Wen has actually permitted me to make such decisions on my very own. You ungrateful turds!

  15. Dog Lover says:

    Its not all bad news ….

    Noting the Government is aware people will miss the temporary dog park along the Causeway Bay promenade, Mr Tang said it will liaise with local groups on relocating it…

  16. Spaz says:

    “Its not all bad news ….

    Noting the Government is aware people will miss the temporary dog park along the Causeway Bay promenade, Mr Tang said it will liaise with local groups on relocating it…”

    Preferably somewhere up near Black’s Link or Bowen Rd.

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