Attempts to pedestrianise Hong Kong’s famed Des Voeux Road are nothing new. Ideas to close the congested street to vehicles were first floated back in 2000 and although a number of proposals have been put forth, shoppers still find themselves dodging buses and cabs while navigating some of the world’s most expensive retail space.
Running through the heart of Central, Des Voeux Road is one of the city’s busiest streets. In addition to supporting vehicle traffic, the city’s tram line and an estimated 4000 to 8000 pedestrians per hour use the street. Meanwhile, across Hong Kong, retailers struggle with declining customer numbers and landlords hustle to reduce rents to keep their tenants.
Besides the challenges to the commercial environment, visitors to the area are too often greeted by poor air as fumes from idling motor vehicles fill the urban canyon created by the road’s soaring buildings.
With congestion along the street showing no signs of abating and walkability proving to be an issue, a renewed push to pedestrianise Des Voeux Road Central (DVRC) has taken shape. One idea for revitalising the traditional downtown artery comes from global design firm Benoy, which has conceptualised a new vision for creating a walkable, public realm in the heart of Central.
The pedestrianisation initiative recommends removing cars and buses from a 1.4 kilometre stretch of Des Voeux Road from Pedder Street near the HSBC headquarters to Western Market to make the space and shops along the 160-year-old road more accessible and to attract more visitors to the area.
Creating a Linear Park That Boosts Business
As touchy-feely as that sounds, the project’s designers see the concept producing value for developers and merchants in the area, as well as making it easier for pedestrians to cross the street.
“This is actually an opportunity to enhance the street retail experience and provide more opportunities for retailers,” notes Trevor Vivian, a global director at Benoy who oversees the design firm’s Hong Kong studio. “Pedestrianisation means that people will gravitate to the Des Voeux Road precinct and stay longer due to its enhanced offer; it will be a catalyst for change.”
To ease concerns about rerouting current vehicle traffic, the Walk DVRC campaign, a non-profit initiative supported by Benoy, worked with specialised traffic consultants MVA to create a plan to provide adequate crossroads across the mall and keep traffic flowing through the city. The project would also enlist the aid of the city’s traffic department to ensure smooth implementation.
Making a Magnet Along the Tram Rails
Much as Xintiandi turned a sleepy part of Shanghai into a key commercial district, Benoy sees a walking street along Des Voeux Road in Central as a way to turn the area into a global destination.
“This isn’t only about shoppers and shopping, it’s also about placemaking,” Vivian points out. “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.”
The Hong Kong Public Have Already Voted With Their Feet
During this past year, a series of events and programs have been held along Des Voeux Road as part of the Walk DVRC campaign which has allowed proponents of the plan to test the benefits and impact of the development vision.
In September a stretch of Des Voeux Road from Man Wa Lane to Morrison Street in Central was turned into a walking street, with cars diverted to Connaught Road and other thoroughfares. The result, according to figures gathered by Walk DVRC, was a more than 92 percent increase in pedestrian traffic. The rush of visitors also enjoyed cleaner air, with PM2.5 concentrations falling to 40 percent lower than on other major streets in the area.
During the Walk DVRC events, the road was kept open to the city’s historic trams, with visitors also being able to access the area via subway and bus links from adjoining streets. The pedestrian mall was transformed with street markets, children’s activities and urban sports.
Creating a Permanent Pedestrian Oasis in Central
Benoy’s conceptual vision has proposed to make these improvements permanent, with an emphasis on giving the influx of visitors access to improved shopping opportunities.
“Retail-wise, the new urban hub would be anchored by the well-known retail landmarks at Pedder Street and by Western Market at the opposite end,” Vivian explained.
A transformed Central Market on Des Voeux Road is a key element to linking the pedestrianised area to existing residential and commercial centres in the district. “Upgrading and repositioning the Central Market provides a great opportunity along the pedestrian walkway to connect the Central CBD of Hong Kong with Hollywood Road and Mid-Levels,” Vivian said. “What’s 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, Benoy sees a transformed Des Voeux Road as a way to leverage the attraction of Hong Kong’s waterfront, and take advantage of strong rail and ferry connections as well as link into the wider urban grain of the Central district.
“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 for visitors and residents to enjoy,” concluded Vivian.
Should the increased visitor numbers created by the Walk DVRC campaign include just a small percentage of shoppers, a pedestrianised Des Voeux Road could be a design for a retail rebound in the heart of Hong Kong.
A Walkable Des Voeux Road in Pictures
This sponsored feature was contributed by Benoy. For more information on the Des Voeux Road project, click here.
Information on the Walk DVRC campaign is available here.
All images courtesy of Benoy.