Hong Kong / Government intervention (1980s) Central–Mid-Levels escalator and walkway system

Hong Kong / Government intervention (1980s) Central–Mid-Levels escalator and walkway system

The development of Central Elevated Walkway system in the last five decades of 20th century responds directly to the development and the growing density of Hong Kong, especially Central Business District.

In the middle of the 20th century, Hong Kong was a major destination for refugees from mainland China, the population having risen from a half-million at the time of Japan’s withdrawal in 1945 to a staggering 3.2 million in 1961. While those refugee brought density as well as capital, talented people and diligent workers to Hong Kong, who had contributed greatly to the economic growth of Hong Kong [3]. As mentioned in previous Narratives, under this situation, commercial groups gradually built up the walkway system in Central to promote consumption, with the support and participation of Hong Kong Government later [2].

Another contributing factor was tall buildings. Before the 1950s, though the density of Hong Kong was already high, it remained surprisingly low-rise for many decades with only tens of buildings exceeding 5 floors. This was because Hong Kong Government’s regulation in 1903 that building with more than five floors needs to be approved by the Governor-General in Council [1]. While starting from 1955, Hong Kong Government gradually relaxed the rules on height of buildings, responding to the limited land and rapid economic development. After that, the height of tall buildings rose for years. In 1973, the Connaught Centre leapt to the fifty-plus storeys, marked as the first skyscrapers in Hong Kong [1]. Thus, the Central Business District rapidly grew even denser in the next years. Under this condition, Hong Kong Government started to lead more and more intervention to the walkways in Central, trying to develop and improve it to a more comprehensive and efficient system. In the 1980s, after Exchange Square was completed, the government built a footbridge to connect to Hongkong Land’s network; it ran west along the harbourfront to connect Central Piers and Shun Tak Centre. Other buildings along Queen’s Road Central, such as Standard Chartered Bank Building and Central Tower, were also connected to the system.

More importantly, Hong Kong Government realized the traffic congestion in Central could not be solved only by a separation of human and vehicular traffic, but they also need to develop public transportation and encourage walking. As a result, in 1984, The Central Mid-level escalator was proposed after a study commissioned by the Highways Department of the Hong Kong Government on the transportation requirement, recommended provision of direct and attractive pedestrian links between the Central Business District and the residential areas in Mid-levels to reduce the use of private cars and public transport and hence relieve traffic congestion. The escalator opened to public on October 1993. 800m in length and rising 135m, it provides a mechanized reversible one-way pedestrian link between Central and Mid-levels with 20 escalators and 3 travellators. Due to space constraints, the system is single-laned. During morning rush hour, from 6am to 10am, it runs downhill and reverses direction from 10am to 10pm [5].

Though the route has certain direction, the design treats every escalator as an individual one responding to its local context. For example, the system crosses Cochrane Street by travellators on an elevated structure. Because Cochrane Street is heavily used by road traffic, mainly public light buses which travel to Queen’s Road Central and Wellington Street from Stanley Street. The footpaths along this street were very narrow. Many pedestrian had to walk on the carriageway. Therefore, an elevated walkway is provided so that pedestrians can cross the busy junction safely. While for the road crossings lightly trafficked, like Staunton Street, zeb crossings are provided. And adequate reservoir areas are allowed for pedestrians on both sides of the roads. Besides considering the traffic capacity of the roads, the system also follows the general topography of the streets. Considering the gradient of Cochrane Street is medium about 12%, travellators are applied. While for those steep street like Shelly Street, escalators are provided along the route [4].

As a large-scale government project, the design is not an aggressive intervention. Instead, adequate space is provided all the way through the system, both on ground and elevated levels. However, this meticulous design also cost much. In 1996, the Director of Audit criticized the system that it failed to achieve the primary objective of reducing traffic between the Mid-Levels and Central, as well as over-running the budget by 153% [5]. This is truth, while the escalator system did bring some benefits. Its great impact on the surroundings would be studied in next narrative.

Fig2. Location of Central Mid-level escalator and walkway system


Fig2. Elevation of Central Mid-level escalator and walkway system



Fig3. Map of Central to Mid-level escalators link

[1] 陈翠儿、蔡宏兴.《空间之旅─香港建筑业百年》. 三联书店. 2005.
[2] Shelton, Karakiewicz & Kvan. “The Making of Hong Kong – From Vertical to Volumnetric”. Routledge. 2010.
[3] Teckkam. “The Historical Making of Hong Kong”. Delta. 1986
[4] L.L. “Para-site : arts spaces along the Central-Midlevels escalator”. The HKU Scholars Hub. 1998. Retrieved from http://hub.hku.hk/bitstream/10722/26077/1/FullText.pdf
[5] Chun, Kit. “Life Cycle of the World’s Longest Escalator Link”. Electrical and Mechanical Services Department, HKSAR Government. 2015. Retrieved from

1 Comment on “Hong Kong / Government intervention (1980s) Central–Mid-Levels escalator and walkway system

  1. It is interesting that the “human and vehicular traffic” were separated entirely to the extent that they are not moving in the same direction of the roads with the introduction of the Central-Mid Level escalator. I imagine that this intervention, although not aggressive, as mentioned, did have large scale impact on the movement of traffic in general. The axial vertical movement of the people through the section of Central, from the harbour front right upto Bonham Road, until now was hindered in such a manner.

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