Fresh plan to improve Des Voeux Road
A design company says its plan to turn Hong Kong’s famous Des Voeux Road into a pedestrians-only precinct would be a boost for retail.
Closing the congested street to vehicles was first suggested 16 years ago, but none of the proposals put forward have been actioned.
Running through the heart of Central, Des Voeux Road is one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares. As well as supporting vehicle traffic, the city’s tram line and an estimated 4000 to 8000 pedestrians an hour use the street.
Visitors to the area too often have to deal with air pollution caused by fumes from idling motor vehicles.
As the congestion shows no signs of abating, a new vision for Des Voeux Road Central (DVRC) has been put forward by global design company Benoy. Its initiative recommends removing cars and buses from a 1.4km stretch of Des Voeux Road, from Pedder Street near the HSBC headquarters to Western Market. This, it says, will make the space and shops along the 160-year-old road more accessible, and attract more visitors to the area.
The project designers see the concept producing value for developers and merchants in the area, with easier access to shopping for pedestrians.
“Pedestrianisation means people will gravitate to the Des Voeux Road precinct and stay longer because of its enhanced offer – it will be a catalyst for change,” says Benoy global director Trevor Vivian, who oversees the design firm’s Hong Kong studio.
To ease concerns about rerouting vehicle traffic, the company has been supporting the Walk DVRC campaign, a nonprofit initiative. This has worked with specialised traffic consultancy MVA to create a plan ensuring the pedestrian mall has adequate crossroads to keep traffic flowing through the city.
Much as Xintiandi turned from being a quiet part of Shanghai into a key commercial district, Benoy sees a walking street along DVRC as a way to turn that area into a global destination.
“This isn’t only about shoppers and shopping, it’s also about placemaking,” says Vivian. “By pedestrianising DVRC, we are creating a place for the Hong Kong people which will be a natural and well-connected gathering space enlivened with a changing calendar of events, retail, art and exhibitions, both pop-up and permanent.”
Access to the precinct would be via Hong Kong’s historic tram system.
During the past year, events and programs have been held along Des Voeux Road as part of the Walk DVRC campaign, allowing proponents of the plan to test the benefits and impact of the development vision.
In September, a stretch of the road from Man Wa Lane to Morrison Street was turned into a walking street, with cars diverted to Connaught Road and other thoroughfares. Figures gathered by Walk DVRC show there was an increase of more than 92 per cent in pedestrian traffic. Also the air was cleaner, with air-particle concentrations falling to 40 per cent lower than on other major streets in the area.
During the Walk DVRC events the road was kept open to the city’s trams, and visitors could also access the area via subway and bus links. The area was transformed with street markets, children’s activities and urban sports.
Benoy has proposed these improvements be made permanent, with an emphasis on giving more visitors access to shopping. The new urban hub would be anchored by the retail landmarks at Pedder Street and Western Market, Vivian says.
“Upgrading and repositioning the Central Market would provide a great opportunity along the pedestrian walkway to connect the Central CBD of Hong Kong with Hollywood Road and Mid-Levels,” he says. “What is now merely functional would become a key component in making Des Voeux Road Central into a catalyst for change across the whole area.”
With Central already Hong Kong’s most connected location, a transformed Des Voeux Road would leverage the attraction of Hong Kong’s waterfront, and take advantage of strong rail and ferry connections.
“We see enormous potential for Des Voeux Road to be a global attraction and exciting pedestrian gateway for Hong Kong itself, enriching the heart of this wonderful city with a socially and commercially animated streetscape,” says Vivian.