Author: Christopher DeWolf
It’s late on a Friday morning in Hong Kong and the call to prayer rings and drifts out from the century-old gates of the Jamia Mosque, merging with the mechanical click-click of another local landmark: the Central to Mid-Levels Escalator Link. It is the world’s longest outdoor escalator system, which connects Hong Kong’s central business district with the upscale residential streets of the Mid-Levels.
While many think of escalators as department store mainstays, in Hong Kong, they’re a go-to mode of public transport: The sprawling Mid-Levels Escalator Link shuttles over 80,000 commuters per day.
On this Friday morning, one South Asian congregant, dressed in a button-down shirt and slacks, says he takes the escalator to the mosque every week for Friday prayers. “It’s very convenient,” he says, before washing his feet for prayer.
Twelve hours later, it’s a different scene entirely. A roar of music and conversation escapes from the bars of Soho, a once-quiet neighbourhood that morphed into a nightlife zone after the link opened in 1993. People glide up the escalator as if on a carnival ride: pre-clubbing twentysomethings clutching cans of beer, well-coiffed cocktail types, weary office workers looking to forget their long hours of overtime.
The sprawling Mid-Levels Escalator Link shuttles over 80,000 commuters per day.
Hilly cities have always found novel ways to transport their citizens up inhospitable terrain. San Francisco has its cable cars, Lyon its funiculars (cable railways that scale cliffs). In recent years, South American cities like Medellín, Rio de Janeiro and La Paz have built aerial lifts to reach poor neighbourhoods high in the hills.
Hong Kong, however, was the first city to embrace the escalator as a form of public transportation — though its glory days as a transit solution may well be over.