Monday, September 27, 2010

Hong Kong's Mid-Level Escalators (It's About Time!)

"Hong Kong's Central-Mid Levels Escalator - The Longest in the World"
Rory Boland, Hong Kong / Macau Travel,

"Perhaps one of the city's stranger attractions, the Hong Kong Central-Mid-Levels Escalator is used to ferry thousands of workers between the bedroom community of Mid Levels and Central Hong Kong. Built in 1994, the Hong Kong Central-Mid Levels escalator now carries upwards of 60,000 people a day.

"The escalator is Hong Kong's very own piece of Futurama, elevated above street level and covered; it allows the transportation of workers from their beds to their desks and back again. This is Hog [sic!] Kong at its most modern and efficient. From 6.A.M – 10A.M. the escalator moves downhill and then uphill from 10.15A.M.-12A.M. The complete system of several escalators runs for 800m and climbs a total of 135 meters, some of the ascents can be very steep.

"On the way up you'll cut through the booming Soho district, packed with restaurants and bars...."

K.C. Tang, Central-Mid-Levels escalators, Central, Hong KongAside from "Hog Kong," which is probably a typo,'s discussion is largely positive about "Hong Kong's very own piece of Futurama."

The "Futurama" reference seemed odd to the Lemming. The World's Fairs of 1939 and 1964 had exhibits called Futurama and Futurama II, respectively. "The subject of Futurama was a gigantic model of an America transformed by progress...."1 (Tales of Future Past)

Both iterations of Futurama weren't particularly 'about' moving sidewalks or escalators: although there were elevated walkways in the 1939 version.

Outside of world's fairs and science fiction stories, escalators and moving sidewalks aren't particularly new. Part of the basic technology was patented in 1859 (The Elevator Museum), and products like Virginia Elevator Company's moving walkway have been part of airport terminals for decades.

Of course, we're living in "The Future" now, so quite a bit that was science fiction in 1925 - or 1964 - isn't any more.

For example, Hugo Gernsback's "Images of Life 50 Years Hence" (1925), had an item about moving sidewalks. Also teleportation and electrified crops.2 (Paleo-Future)

Back to Hong Kong

The BBC put together a short video on this Hong Kong urban transit system:

"Close-Up: Escalator system in Hong Kong's Mid-levels"
BBC (January 10, 2010)
video, 2:41

"In an ongoing series, BBC News focuses on aspects of life in countries and cities around the world. What may seem ordinary and familiar to the people who live there, can be surprising to those who do not.

"One of Hong Kong's smartest residential areas is called Mid-levels, and is served by an unusual form of transport: the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world.

"The Central-Mid-levels system consists of twenty escalators and three moving walkways - and it runs in one direction in the morning, and another in the afternoon...."

KC Cheung, February 26, 2004One point that impressed me in the video was how the escalator system transformed a residential/light industrial neighborhood into an entertainment district. Before the escalators, folks could walk into the area - if they had to. Print and pottery shops were typical businesses, according to the BBC. After the escalators made the area more accessible, it's got a whole lot more restaurants and related businesses: and is a place where folks go to enjoy off-work hours.

Made in - 1932??

Here's another look at that part of Hong Kong:

"Hong Kong Island: Western District"
Go Travel Hong Kong

"Hong Kong Island's Western District is a blend of old Hong Kong with its' traditional lifestyle and the new Hong Kong dominated by its' modern skyscrapers. The western district has some of the main sights of Hong Kong including the ones listed below.

"Hong Kong's SoHo district refers to Staunton Street and Elgin Street which both lie 'SOuth of HOllywood Road'. This thriving area is packed with trendy international restaurants, cafes, bars, art galleries and the nightlife centre of Lan Kwai Fong which can be found just beneath Hollywood Road. The nightlife centre is filled with bars and snack shops where party goers can top up on food and drink into the middle of the night.

"Central Mid Levels Escalator
"The central to mid-levels escalator opened in 1932 & at around 800 metres high, the escalator is the world's longest outdoor escalator and runs from the central market in Central to halfway up Victoria Peak at Conduit Road. The central to mid-levels escalator was created to reduce traffic and ease congestion. The escalator only goes one way. It goes down before 10am and up after 10am. ..."

zh FongCYu, 中環至半山自動扶梯系統的, Elgin Street entranceThe page is on a travel and tourism website, and is geared for tourists. That's fine with the Lemming - but this seems odd: "...The central to mid-levels escalator opened in 1932...."

The basic technology for escalators and moving walkways was around before 1932. (The Elevator Museum) I rather doubt that the system is quite that old: since all other references to its development put the start of the project in the early 1990s

The page paints an attractive word-picture of that part of Hong Kong, though: and includes a street map.

Still, although what we see today doesn't have quite the style of 1930s urban transportation technology: a system of walkways and escalators much like what we've got today could have been built any time during the last century.

Why Weren't Hong Kong's Mid-Level Escalators Built in the 1930s?!

The Lemming's guess is that the technology was around in 1932: but that folks in Hong Kong didn't have an economic incentive to build the Mid-Level Escalators.

Today, with more people around and maybe a better understanding of what it takes to make a city work, Hong Kong had both the technology and good reasons for building this huge set of moving sidewalks and stairs.

Which seem to be 'single lane.' The system has to be put in reverse for folks wanting to go the 'other' way.

Let's see; 1994 (when part of the system apparently was built) - 1939(the first Futurama) = 55. Maybe in another 55 years, 2065, they'll have made it a two-lane system: the kind you see in multistory stores and shopping malls.

Hong Kong, Manhattan, and Nigeria: Lots of People

Finally, the Lemming didn't find the term "overpopulated" in these articles. No problem there: I don't think Hong Kong has 'too many people.' Even though more folks live there than we've got here in Sauk Centre, Minnesota.

It's odd, in a way. Places like Hong Kong, Manhattan, and San Francisco aren't called "overpopulated" all that much - although it's often noted that these areas have a high population density. Places like India and Nigeria? They're often called "overpopulated." The Lemming has written about this before:Related posts:More:Photo credits: K.C. Tang; KC Cheung; zh FongCYu; all via Wikipedia.
1 That was back when 'progress' was seen as a good thing, and we weren't supposed to be facing a future of ice ages, global warming, reactor-destroying bees, and mutant frogs. Not that even the most hysterically earnest prognosticator came up with all those at the same time.

I've discussed 'The Future,' and how folks have looked at what hasn't happened yet, before. Including these posts:2 The sort of "teleportation" that Star Trek series used may not be possible at all. On the other hand, researchers are doing a sort of teleportation in the laboratory. That word sounds a whole lot cooler than "quantum entanglement," which is another topic. (January 23, 2009)

We don't have "electrified crops," but the Green Revolution and developments in genetics have a noticeable number of folks scared silly:

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