Being driven round the bend

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.



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11 Responses to Being driven round the bend

  1. Mary Hinge says:

    “Auction off the right to enter Central, TST and other urban areas during daytime to a limited number of vehicles … Taxi drivers will complain? Shoot them.”


  2. Real Tax Payer says:

    Went to Mongkok the other day for some medical tests ( why are there so many medical centers in Mongkok ?). I thought the air in crowded places on the Island like Central, Wanchai and Causeway Bay was foul, but in the heart of Mongkok it was 10 x worse.

    Guess that’s why the new central govt offices are being built on Tamar base ( guess even govt hill is now too stuffy for our elite bureaucrats )

    BTW : has anyone heard if govt hill will be auctioned off to the property barons, or will kept as a green lung in Central? I thought the critical TPB meeting was on 5 July

  3. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    Set the people upon each other – allow police to issue double parking violation tickets by post based on video recordings of offending vehicle with number plate taken by dutiful citizens on their mobile phones. The first to upload the video to a HK police uploading service receives, say, 2% of the fine paid.

    This will tap the same trading-hours-for-pennys spirit of the Cantonese that sees people queuing up for the Mid-Level Escalator Octupus discount machine every day. You’d also generate a fair amount of interesting youtube videos of angry drivers getting out to assault the dutiful citizens.

  4. Maugrim says:

    I hate to say it but in HK if you are poor the law gets enforced a lot quicker with a lot less sympathy. Traffic offences are policed on a randonm basis. I saw one car move into a lane illegally with a motorcyle cop right behind, the cop was too lazy to even wag a finger. Red Mini Bus drivers regularly cross double yellow lines without even indicating as they leave the toll booth on the KLN side of the tunnell etc etc. The solution to the problem above? Paint double yellow lines on narrow streets and enforce it.

  5. Old Timer says:

    Bring back public flogging with the cat o’nine tails down on Wing Lok Street. That’ll sort it.

  6. Jason90 says:

    Seriously guys, there are solutions:
    Per minute charging in car parks instead of one or even two hour minimum charges – look what per second rather than per minute billing did for mobile phone usage.
    The underground car park at Admiralty has an air conditioned drivers room with a telephone – it was built by the French company (forget the name) that previously operated the car park. It is now operated by Wilson Parking, and the place is locked up most of the time to prevent drivers from using it.
    There is a system to charge vehicles for entering congested areas – it is called Electronic Road Pricing – the Singaporeans can manage it.
    If the charges were high enough it would help to keep the riff-raff off the streets and allow me to drive my cars….
    David Webb has an interesting article on cars/tax/roads on webb-site.

  7. Stephen says:

    Apart from a few tepid attempts at pedestrianisation in C’way Bay and Mong Kong its the same old same old in Hong Kong. People get shunted onto overhead walkways and airconditioned malls whilst the streets are ruled by the mighty car. Go to new towns like Tin Shiu Wai and Tseung Kwan O and you will see a zero people / shops at ground level. I half expect to see tumbleweed blowing down the excessively wide roads loving built there by the Highways Department.
    Anyway is the weekend open yet?

  8. KY says:

    HK is so small that I don’t see why people can’t walk for most of the their trips.
    Plus if you add in bicycle …
    Well, it does sound like the promise of free election, ultimately it will come.

  9. Real Tax Payer says:

    If the police are serious about illegal parking, they only have to go any lunchtime to the Fuk Lam Moon restaurant in Johnston Rd, Wanchai where there are always at least half a dozen Rolls, FerrarIs and bigwigs family Alphards (is that pronounced Alp – Hard or Al – Ph(f)ard ? ) parked outside FLM, usually double parked , thus blocking Johnstion Rd.

    (Oh..oh… forgot to emntion that they are all owned by the likes of Dr. Stanley Ho, and the property barons, not to mention their govt accolytes in tow. )

    Meanwhile, with the ultimate irony, I was once booked one quiet sunday afternoon for parking at the very end of Hatton Road, just above Kotewall Rd fire station where Hatton Rd comes to a complete end ( a true “Tung End” cul-de-sac) and becomes a walkers-only path up to the Peak. Reason on parking ticket : ‘blocking traffic” I DO NOT JOKE !

  10. Brocco Li says:

    Electronic Road Pricing ( a great idea, IMHO) was seriously considered by the colonial government in the 80s, by whatshisname ‘Gordon’ (who later on became Governor of the Cayman Islands). If only they had implemented it. I think the main objection was about ‘privacy’. (finding out who visited the brothels in Kowloon Tong and at what time and date).

  11. Bigot says:

    whatshisname ‘Gordon’ … Alan Scott, also chairman of the HK Amateur Athletic Association then.

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