Hong/couver

Of viaducts and trams

In Vancouver and in Hong Kong, there are debates always ongoing about legacy infrastructure.1 Right now, there’s an ongoing debate in Vancouver about the viaducts that connect the eastern part of downtown with the downtown core. The debate is whether or not these highway bridges should be torn down.2 The viaducts are remnants of an older time period of planning when highways and byways were considered to be the ultimate in transportation solutions. When cars ruled.3

Interestingly, there’s a similar debate ongoing in Hong Kong, where there are suggestions that the city’s lovely double-decker trams, which have plied the streets for more than 100 years, should be removed from the Central district.4 These trams are remnants of an earlier time period of planning, when public transport was considered to be the ultimate in transportation solutions, and when buses, carts, and trams ruled5

The argument in both cities and in both cases is that these old, outmoded forms of transport should be done away with, and that they cause more problems than they solve. At least, that’s what the arguments seem to be at first.

The reality is likely something different. Vancouver’s desire to rid itself of the viaducts doesn’t stem from some deep-seated concern that elevated concrete byways separate neighbourhoods.6 Instead, it seems that the desire to tear the viaducts down comes instead from a desire on the part of the city’s mayor and council to instead capitalize on the land underneath, land that they seem to think would be better served as condo towers and super-expensive homes.

Hong Kong’s current crisis over the tramways isn’t seated in some kind of concern that the trams aren’t the best way of travelling, or that they may be duplicative of the subways under the streets. Instead, it seems that the real problem is that there’s a lot of traffic in Central7 and that the trams might contribute to this in some way. However, I think that the real truth of the matter is that the traffic in Central isn’t caused by the trams, but rather by the limousines and cars waiting, often illegally, in the streets for billionaires and C-suite executives to leave.

In the long run, both Hong Kong’s trams and Vancouver’s viaducts may well disappear. But if they do, the real reason isn’t what’s stated at first — and it isn’t service to the public. It’s service to capital, and the capital class instead.

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  1. Creative Commons photo credits: “BC Place and Viaduct, foggy” by Colin Knowles, and “Hong Kong Tramways” by akwan.architect
  2. See here, for example.
  3. As if they don’t now.
  4. Central District is the central business district. Here’s an article on the suggested removals, again.
  5. Frankly, the trams still rule.
  6. This argument was tried when the viaducts were being built; it was only partially successful.
  7. Unsurprising, really
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