The bad-ass pedestrians of Hong Kong

Solo American-Indians walking on the shoulder of the road with shopping bags in both hands: a sad sight in the land of the car (rural/suburban America) where pedestrians and non-spandex wearing cyclists are suspect. One immediately thinks, “She must be too poor to own a car,” or “He must have had his license taken because of a DUI.”

I saw people walking on the side of the road as 50 mph traffic whizzed by every day while staying with my mom half of this summer. She lives on private property within the Suquamish Indian Reservation in Washington State. It is a land of no sidewalks, where everyone who can drives, and public transport is spotty in frequency and coverage. It was the same in Layton, Utah where my dad and stepmother live and where I spent the other half of the summer.

How refreshing to return to Hong Kong where car ownership is low and ninety percent of journeys are done on public transport, making it the highest rate in the world. (via “Transportation in Hong Kong” on Wikipedia) (Oh, and I should say this is all withstanding my earlier post on the “The Unexpected Joy of Driving in Hong Kong.” I do not claim to be a populist/environmentalist saint.)

In core areas of Hong Kong Island, pedestrians are absolute kings. I recently spent a weekday morning whizzing around Central via the extensive network of walking paths that cross through buildings and across streets. It is an awesome feeling to stride overtop congested roadways, while dodging “the suits”/shoppers/tourists, and listening to the Beastie Boys via ear buds. A complete head rush of pedestrian power. These pedestrian thoroughfares, paired with the public transportation system of ferries, trains, trams, buses, and escalators, are one of the key joys of Hong Kong.

Long live Hong Kong where a well-timed old lady with a shopping trolley and Octopus Card can cross the city via a combination of ferry, pedestrian overpass, and MTR without halting her forward motion once.

14 responses to “The bad-ass pedestrians of Hong Kong

  1. Just got a big dose of nostalgia after reading your post, and seeing your photos of the pedestrian flyover atop of Des Voeux Road! Big huge agreement with you on the feeling of pedestrian empowerment in Hong Kong, especially as you cross over the traffic to the tunes of your choice!

    I used to work in Chater House and would take that Hongkong Land flyover either towards the Landmark or IFC/Central Post Office almost everyday in search of lunch! 🙂 Pedestrian Power to the People (oh, and yes, those Octopus Cards ROCK!)

    • Is Charter House the building with one solid floor of all Armani stores? All seemingly always empty of customers? Do tell if you have any insights! I’ve always thought that level of that building was a weird stop on the pedestrian thoroughfare in Central.

      Glad to give you a walk down memory lane. Lots of lunches at Crystal Jade, Pret a Manger and the 360 food court?

      • Yes! That’s the one! It is a little “shrine to Armani” on that skybrigde level. You’ve hit the nail on the head! I miss Pret, 360, and Crystal Jade (which I now believe has 1 Michelin star!) But back to your post, what I miss most is the ability to WALK home to Caine road via the sky bridge and the Mid-Levels escalator from the airport via the airport express in Exchange Square if I didn’t have a lot of luggage. Oh man how I miss that escalator!

  2. I’m completely hooked on being able to do things on foot as a result of being an expat. In the countries we lived in, I either didn’t have a car or the traffic was so mad I didn’t want to drive, and as a result we always chose places to live where I could do a lot on foot and the rest either by public transit or taxi. Now we’re back home, I’m continuing to walk and/or use transit. It is just so liberating!

    • Riding my bike everywhere was THE key joy of living in Cambridge, UK. Cycling around Hong Kong isn’t so feasible, but public transport is fantastic and cheap. I love it! Amazing the new things one learns to love as an expat.

  3. It never seize to amaze me how well and efficient the massive network of escalators inside the MTR systems were being maintain considering most of the stations have multiple levels with super long escalators. These beasts literally transport millions of commuters between street levels and train platforms every day and yet they are so reliable that I haven’t come across one with an out of order sign during my many visits to HK over the years. Compare to the BART system here at home in the SF Bay Area we ought to hang our head in shame. BART has far less escalators to maintain inside its stations and yet (and I am not exaggerating) 8 out of 10 times the single one way short escalator at my station will be down for maintenance or broken. And sometimes stay that way for months.
    HK may have its problem with air pollution and overcrowding but public transportation is one thing the city has it done right.
    BTW, I am also in awe with the world’s longest outdoor escalator system in the Mid-levels

    • Great point about how functional all those elevators and moving walkways are. Kudos to the MTR corporation!

      I am also in awe of the mid-levels escalator system; I often ride it when I’m in Central for no reason at other other than the joy of riding.

      Nice to “see” you sundanze.

  4. It actually surprises me how much I enjoy being a pedestrian. Its not hard, very convenient, and I rarely miss my car. The only time I do is for big shopping trips, but even that part of life (buying more than I can reasonably carry) is going by the way side.
    I think we’re all more connected to other people when we are pedestrians. Much different from when we are separated from the rest of humanity in our cars.

    • It’s so refreshing in some ways to not worry about driving/parking/traffic/etc, isn’t it? My confession is that I live out in the New Territories of Hong Kong (i.e. in the sticks) and I actually drive more now that I did in either China or England… But when I get the chance to spend time in the core of the city, I love it!

  5. I am amazed at the moving walkways and series of pedestrian overpasses in Hong Kong – the mid-level escalators that go all the way up (and down). It’s actually a “tourist spot” I show to out-of-towners!

    • Me too! The only thing that would make the mid-level escalators more interesting would be more opportunities for (tame) voyeurism. I don’t need to look at another day spa ad on the second level of a building, I want to peep into someone’s front room and comment on their choice of furnishings as I’m cruising up the escalator.

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