HONG KONG: Pedestrianized streets, al fresco art, urban picnic zones and recycling points have become part of the landscape in central Hong Kong as a result of mass protests — and some residents would like to keep it that way, regardless of their politics.
The student-led democracy movement that has taken over parts of the city for nearly two weeks has left traffic gridlocked, commuters irate and businesses complaining of lost trade due to road closures and diversions.
But while daily life has been disrupted, some are now taking advantage of the kilometre-long sweep of highway running through the centre of Hong Kong which is now traffic-free.
Usually clogged with cars, trucks and taxis, the multiple-lane road running through the central district of Admiralty is the main site for the protest movement and has seen rallies of tens of thousands of demonstrators.
As protest leaders and government officials make slow progress on talks and some students return to school or university, the numbers of demonstrators in Admiralty have dwindled to a few hundred in the past few days — making room for joggers, cyclists and lunching office workers enjoying a break from traffic noise and fumes.
“It’s actually like a huge massive exhibition space. I think the whole thing is disruptive, but as an idea it would be nice to have more space for pedestrians,” said one 30-year-old who works in the fashion industry and gave her name as Lucy.
“The city has got a little bit unbearable because it’s too packed. This is actually quite nice and peaceful,” she said, taking an early morning walk along the road where birdsong is now louder than the urban hum.
Cyclist George Adams, 56, questioned why Hong Kong could not routinely provide more space for bikes as he cycled down the car-free highway.
“[We’ve got] eight lanes of highway, no provision for pedestrians… no provision for bicycles. That’s a symptom of something isn’t it? The way in which Hong Kong is totally controlled by money, the moguls, the tycoons.”