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  • Danny Lee

Car-free zone proves tough sell to shopkeepers and councillors in Hong Kong business district

Urban planning group Walk DVRC wants to host a 90-day festival to prove to authorities that a vehicle-free future can work in the city, but some politicians are sceptical

A plan to pedestrianise a portion of Hong Kong’s central business district for three months hangs in the balance with district councillors and shopkeepers opposed to the idea.

Urban planning group Walk DVRC wants to host a 90-day Sheung Wan Fiesta to prove to authorities that a car-free future can succeed in the city.

Closing a strip of Des Voeux Road Central to traffic for the event could decide the fate of a bigger plan to convert a 1.4km stretch of the busy thoroughfare into a permanent pedestrian paradise.

Walk DVRC needs Central and Western District Council’s permission to hold the fiesta.

“A lot of people we have spoken to are greatly supportive of the idea. We have a small problem with the district councillors who we have to do a lot more lobbying with,” Walk DVRC chair Markus Shaw told the Post after presenting his vision of a car-free central business district to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club on Tuesday.

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“[Winning over the councillors] is going to be key to the idea seeing the light of day.”

Planned for September to November this year, the fiesta would have culture and heritage at its heart through food and performances while promoting traders and historic sights. Food stands, outdoor seating and pop-up stalls would become regular fixtures.

Trams would keep running and one lane of traffic would be kept open to ensure minimal disruption to traders. The main traffic in the area would be diverted.

However, shopkeepers expressed two main concerns: that stores would become inaccessible and footfall collapse if the road closed, and that trucks would have difficulty delivering goods.

Council vice-chairman Chan Hok-fung, of the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, backed the shopkeepers.

“If they can provide a solution on the loading and unloading of goods and shopping issues, I think the shop owners would find it easier to accept the proposals,” Chan said.

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“If they can convince shopkeepers, the district council will support it too.”

Fellow councillor Ted Hui Chi-fung said his pan-democratic colleagues appeared to “fully support” the plan to accommodate the car-free festival, citing improved air quality and an enhanced walking and environmental experience.

Local councillors who support the fiesta hope the under-construction Central-Wan Chai Bypass will ease congested roads. Completion of the scheme would pave the wave for electronic road pricing, further reducing traffic in the area.

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Walk DVRC chief executive Jennifer Walker Frisinger said a petition was in the pipeline on the group’s longer-term plan to pedestrianise the road should the fiesta get approval. She expressed confidence of garnering majority support.

Shaw said district councillors and shopkeepers would “never know” if the scheme would benefit them unless it is tried.

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