Cities in Europe are “creating environments openly hostile to cars.” The cure to gridlock, oppressive urban environments and foul air, the article says, is to “make car use expensive and just plain miserable…”
Here in the Big Lychee, however, the planners and bureaucrats aim to do the exact opposite, or “keep the traffic flowing,” as they put it. That means building more roads, which in turn stimulates vehicle use, which necessitates yet more roads, and so on until you end up devoting more land area to highways than you do to housing.
Stand on a pedestrian overpass in Central for a few minutes and you will notice that a fair number of the mega-van people-carriers clogging up the narrow streets linking the bigger roads like Des Voeux and Queens are simply going round the block over and again. If and when they find a place to (illegally) park or double-park, they might take it and sit with their engine running. This is what our transport bureaucrats try to facilitate.
The drivers are chauffeurs waiting for phone calls from their bosses who are in meetings and expect their gleaming chariot to be on the doorstep at a moment’s notice when they emerge. Back in the days when diesel-powered taxis belched black smoke, Central was far less densely populated; if anything, the air was cleaner, and you would see people like Li Ka-shing strolling around. Today, with no apparent limits to increases in office floor area through redevelopment, the daytime population seems to be a multiple of what it was then, yet humans and vehicles are crammed into the same ground-level space. Streets are getting close to gridlock, and sidewalks, overpasses and MTR entrances are so crowded at times like lunch hour that walking a few blocks is more like standing in line.
Officials don’t take action against the illegal and double parking. (The pictures show Lyndhurst Terrace; some minivans seem to spend half the day doing loops from this street to Hollywood, Wyndham, Queens and back here again.) The bureaucrats’ view is that the drivers would simply go somewhere else to illegally park, or they would just do circuits all of the time rather than just some of it.
A child could think of solutions: put barriers along all these roads so there is just one lane, then charge a toll, as in tunnels, for going round in circles – and make the toll as high as it takes to get the vehicles into car parks. Auction off the right to enter Central, TST and other urban areas during daytime to a limited number of vehicles whose owners have off-street parking. Simply block whole streets off until cars literally have nowhere to go in congested districts. Then use some of the freed-up space for covered, air-conditioned moving walkways with free ice-cream so even the frailest tycoon, tai-tai and bodyguard can get around in moderate comfort. Taxi drivers will complain? Shoot them. Landmines would probably help, too. (The simple answers are always the best. My favoured solution for the infamous Cross-Harbour Tunnel congestion? Brick it up.)
The bureaucrats at this stage will come up with a major, killer objection: such methods would inevitably prevent daytime deliveries of goods in congested areas, and businesses would suffer, even close. This is the traditional Hong Kong argument that overrides anything. It sounds superficially credible; after all, no business means no jobs means no food on the table. But if outlets genuinely could not survive without trucks coming and going all day, would the premises be left vacant and the former employees starving?
No. One possibility is that landlords would have to convert some of their properties, maybe on higher floors, into storage space, so tenants could get by with less frequent deliveries. Lan Kwai Fong is clogged with beer trucks every afternoon because many bars have nowhere to keep more than one or two nights’ inventory. Another possibility is that certain businesses would indeed close or move, but new ones would set up in the same premises – ones that are less dependent on a constant stream of supplies.
You can see, of course, where this is heading. ‘Business’ as such would not suffer; rents would. Both these scenarios would hit landlords (also sometimes known as ‘ the tourism industry’) in the pocket. And we can’t have that, can we? It’s so good to know that our air is poison and our sidewalks almost impassable for such a worthwhile cause.
By the by…
Something to do between casino visits over the weekend: an Exhibition of Contemporary Ceramics of Macau at Sin City’s cool, uncrowded, tourist-free Arts Centre, just southwest of the Sands. Johnsonian-minded skeptics who expect to see a case of ‘it is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all’ may be pleasantly surprised, even if they wouldn’t actually want any of it at home.