lockade in Causeway Bay doing a world of good despite criticism, some Hongkongers say

Occupy Central protesters have held up traffic on major roads in Causeway Bay for more than two weeks – but to some commuters and pedestrians, the blockade is actually a welcome addition.

Over the past few days, residents and workers passing through the occupied parts of the district have enjoyed the fact they have more space to walk in, the air is cleaner and there are more activities that engage the public.

Thomas Lam, 35, and Tracy Leung, 33, walked around the occupied area of Yee Wo Street, near the Sogo shopping mall, while a maths tutorial was being held in the streets.

“These initiatives are a good thing. In fact, we can also enjoy more the public space and there are less tourists,” said Lam, who described tourists as “definitely more annoying than the protesters”.

Since the occupation of Causeway Bay started on September 29, protesters have been organising public lectures on Hennessy Road, which was closed to traffic until this morning.

The protesters on October 8 also started holding free tutorials for the general public on Maths, Chinese, English and other subjects, at Yee Wo Street.

“It affects the daily life a bit, but they are peaceful and the streets are actually cleaner than before,” said Lam, who works in Causeway Bay and lives in Wan Chai.

Causeway Bay – crammed with restaurants, shopping malls and designer as well as bargain stores – attracts hundreds of tourists and shoppers every day, who typically depend on the dozens of buses and the trams to get there. Many local business owners have complained of losing revenue, especially during the holidays around National Day on October 1, during the protests.

Commuters have also complained that their children cannot go to school, or have to take circuitous routes to get to work or back home. The problems have led to confrontations between protesters and angry Hongkongers over the past weeks.

But Sherry Wong, 45, who lives near the protest site, said: “This area is much better as it is now (without cars). It gives much more space to residents … I think the disturbance is minimal. The impact [of the protest] is not as bad as some people say.”

Lam said he used to travel to work by bus, but since the protests has decided to walk instead. “It actually takes more or less the same time and I feel happier than before.”

His wife, Leung, said her travel habits had changed. “I used to take bus and then the West Rail [line]. Now I have to take the MTR and then the West Rail. I need 15 minutes more to get into work in Tai Po, but it’s not a big deal,” she said.

A family living in a building right next to Yee Wo Street also said their life had not been negatively affected by the protest.

“I didn’t notice any inconvenience … we mostly use MTR,” said Lal Virendra, 30, who was holding his little daughter. “I think that this even looks better. There’s less noise and less pollution, and they [protesters] are all nice.”

The occupied area in Causeway Bay reminds Dee Sum, 34, of Hong Kong in the ‘80s, when people still mingled with their neighbours.

“Public housing used to have public areas and you used to know your neighbours …When I came back from the United Kingdom about five years ago, I felt Hong Kong was a cold-hearted city and a money-driven place, but this proved me wrong,” he said.

Sum, who lives near the protest site, has been visiting the Occupy sit-in every night after work. “Apart from transport [disruptions], I don’t notice any inconvenience. I think it’s doing more good than harm,” he said.

This morning, police removed barricades from Hennessy Road and Jardine’s Bazaar, opening two lanes of Yee Wo Street.

While some are relieved because their lives and businesses are slowly returning to normal, protesters and some residents hope that the sense of community remains.

“People here are nice and we know each other,” said Andrew Leung, 25, a labouratory technician. “I will definitely feel sad if this area is cleared up.”