The Issue

Facts about Des Voeux Road Central

Air quality

  • Des Voeux Road Central (DVRC), located in the Central Business District (CBD) of Hong Kong, is one of the busiest and most polluted areas in the city.
  • According to a study conducted by The City University of Hong Kong and Civic Exchange, the air pollution along DVRC is worse than Connaught Road Central and Queen’s Road Central, despite a lower traffic flow on DVRC.
  • Tall buildings with contiguous facades line both sides of DVRC creating a canyon effect, which greatly suppresses the dispersion of air pollutants.
  • On average, there are 4,000 – 8,000 pedestrians per hour on DVRC. These pedestrians are severely affected by DVRC’s crippling air quality.

Traffic

  • Traffic is congested and vehicle speed in Central is extremely slow. The general speed of vehicular traffic in Central is 10km per hour, only slightly higher than a pedestrian’s speed.

Street Life

  • Pedestrian space along DVRC is extremely marginalized. The road space allotted to vehicles is 7 metres wide, while the sidewalk space designated for pedestrians is only 3.1 metres on each side.
  • As pedestrian space is severely over-crowded, people not only walk dangerously outside this space, they frequently jaywalk as well.

History and Culture

  • The stretch of DVRC from Pedder Street to Western Market is rich in heritage and culture. Hong Kong’s unique history is embodied in the many shops that still exist in this area and it should be conserved and promoted.

Learn more about the study

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Study conducted by The City University of Hong Kong and Civic Exchange

Graph 1: Comparison of traffic counts and pollutant measurements

Graph 1: Comparison of traffic counts and pollutant measurements

The Issue_illustration1_ Busiest pedestrian flow with highest air pollution

Illustration 1: Busiest pedestrian flow with highest air pollution

The Issue_Photo 1_Photos showing canyon effect at DVRC-02

Photo 1: Canyon effect at DVRC

Impact of roadside air pollution on human health

Road transportation emits high concentrations of nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and black carbon. These pollutants are especially harmful to infants, children, the elderly, pregnant women and patients with chronic health conditions. A 2013 assessment by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that outdoor air pollution is carcinogenic to humans, with the particulate matter component most closely associated with an increased likelihood of developing cancer, especially lung cancer. An association between outdoor air pollution and increase in cancer of the urinary tract/bladder was also observed. More recently in 2015, HKU led the first health study in Asia which showed that long-term exposure to fine particle PM2.5 is associated with mortality in Hong Kong’s elderly.

Hong Kong’s Air Pollution: Costs & Challenges

Air pollution has incurred high social costs in Hong Kong over the years and continues to be one of the biggest threats to public health today. According to the Hedley Environmental Index of the University of Hong Kong, air pollution caused 2,616 premature deaths, HK$32.657 billion economic loss, 174,926 hospitalizations and 4.253 million doctor visits in 2014. The air quality of Hong Kong is starting to affect its position as Asia’s World City. International businesses, concerned about the city’s air quality, have already relocated elsewhere or chosen not to settle in Hong Kong in the first place. Although there has been some improvement in air quality in recent years, e.g., nitrogen dioxide (NO2) has decreased at all monitoring stations compared to 2013, partly due to the retirement scheme for old commercial diesel vehicles (CDVs) and replacement of selective catalytic converters on taxis and mini-buses, Hong Kong continues to fall behind its own stated Air Quality Objectives, not to mention the WHO’ s standards (Air Quality Guidelines). End-of-pipe solutions are clearly not enough on their own to improve Hong Kong’s air quality. Therefore, other, non-end-of-pipe solutions such as sustainable transport management and pedestrianization of the most polluted pedestrian zones are crucial if Hong Kong is to meet the 2020 reduction targets set by the Government in its Air Quality Objectives. (Illustration 2)
The Issue_Illustration 2_Limitation of end-of-pipe solution

Illustration 2: Hong Kong’s progress towards its stated Air Quality Objectives

Even though it is an international financial center, Hong Kong’s roadside emissions are falling much more slowly than other leading, global cities. Comparing annual NO2 annual levels with six other countries/cities, New York, Singapore, Seoul, London, Shanghai and the United States, the figures show that Hong is way behind Singapore and London. Even New York, Seoul and Shanghai are catching up fast albeit with higher starting levels of NO2. Below shows a comparison of measures taken by different cities (Table 2) Table 2: A comparison of different countries’ measures
Pedestrian zone Bike friendly Electronic Road Pricing Low Emission Zone Intelligent Transport Systems
New York
London
Shanghai Shopping streets
Singapore
Seoul Partly
Hong Kong Small scale Low Emission “Streets”

How pedestrian space affects air quality: a more walkable environment benefits air quality

A more walking-friendly environment is crucial to reduce unnecessary short distance traffic demand which in turn lowers roadside air pollution.
  • In New York City, for example, nitrogen and NO2 levels dropped by 63% and 41%, respectively, after Times Square was pedestrianized by the City government. (Source: NYC Gov, 2011).
  • In another study conducted by Frank et al., researchers found that a 5% increase in walkability will reduce vehicle miles travelled by 6.5%, with a corresponding reduction of 5.6% and 5.5% in the pollutants, nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds, respectively.
  • Although there has been a global trend to encourage walking in lieu of taking motorized transportation in urban areas, Hong Kong persists in its mentality of “cars first, people later” and continues to build more roads for cars rather than people.
  • Large-scale pedestrianizations in densely trafficked urban areas have been carried out successfully in many major cities throughout the world. While there may be initial resistance to such changes, they are eventually shown to be good for business and social interaction.