Hong Kong Island's Ingenious Stairway

No 20

Generally considered the world's most densely populated city, Hong Kong has also tried out an impressive number of congestion solutions. There are myriad ways to get from one place to the other here, from the famous old ferries that ply Kowloon Bay to the sleek and well-lit metro system.

Arguably most ingenious—and certainly most original—of the city's people-conveying methods is the Central-Mid-Levels escalator. Billed as the world's longest outdoor escalator, it is in fact a series of some 20 escalators and automated horizontal walkways, a rippling spine that moves up and down up an 800-meter (2,600-foot) stretch of urban slope on Hong Kong Island.

The automated stairs run downhill, to the glass-and-steel towers of the Central Business District, between the hours of 8 and 10 a.m. The escalator runs uphill the rest of the day; it shuts down at midnight, but the old-fashioned stairways that run alongside it never close. The uphill terminus is Conduit Road, in the Mid-Levels residential district. There is no charge to ride.

The escalator moves some 200,000 people a day. Beyond its functional role, it offers an atypical form of urban spectacle. Restaurants, bars, and barber shops seem to glide by, as though part of an ever-changing carousel. Any rider so inclined can easily snatch illicit glimpses into above-ground apartments.

Since it was built in 1993, businesses have sprung up near the escalator. In the neighborhood of Soho, tenements and small workshops have given way to international-flavored nightlife. The escalator, then, has changed not only the experience of Hong Kong, but the fabric of the city itself.

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