Friday, March 25, 2016

Demolishing Pedestrian Bridges

Taipei is considering demolishing the pedestrian bridge at Xinyi and Keelung Rds., part of an effort to remove bridges and tunnels that are rarely used.
As long as this is accompanied by street-level crossings, this is another good step for Taipei. These bridges and tunnels' only purpose is the convenience of drivers, who don't have to wait for pedestrians to cross the street. But for pedestrians, especially those who are disabled, old, or carrying anything heavy, they are a nuisance and lengthen the amount of time it takes to cross a street. They are also block sidewalks and sunlight and are ugly to boot.
So far Ko has been pretty good for pedestrians- let's hope he doesn't get himself driven out of office.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Taoyuan's Guishan Line Passes Feasibility Review

The Taoyuan MRT's Guishan Line (Brown Line) has taken another step to completion, gaining approval from the Ministry of Transportation. By now it has been confirmed that the entire line will be elevated, and since a portion of the route it will follow is somewhat narrow it will be a monorail. Some residents living on the route hoped for an underground line but that was rejected because then the line would be unable to recoup 25% of its cost, as required.
Linking Huilong MRT station and Taoyuan Train Station, the line will cost NT$17.2 billion (US$530 million, for US$46 million/km).

Monday, March 21, 2016

Hualien-Taitung Freeway Unlikely

The Directorate-General of Highways has announced the results of a study into building a freeway between Hualien and Taitung. Launched because of worries that the new Su-ao-Hualien highway will bring more cars into the east than the region's roads can handle, the study found that the current road system should in fact be adequate. It also found that the freeway would cost NT90 billion (US$2.8 billion, roughly US$17 million/km at 160km long) and take six years to complete.
Although the freeway likely won't be built, this is a good example of how driving infrastructure begets more driving infrastructure, with new freeways drawing in more drivers, who clog other connecting roads and drive calls for even more freeways. In this specific case, although Taiwan's east isn't especially dense, it's still very well suited to mass transit, with the vast majority of the population living within a few kilometers from the rail line (well, except in Taitung City...). Perhaps the best thing the government could do for mobility in the east at this point is rebuild the branch to Taitung, which after all is the most popular destination between Hualien City and Pingtung.

Friday, March 18, 2016

A New Xinyi-Neihu Line

With Neihu facing a transportation crisis Taipei is looking for solutions. This situation isn't very surprising; Neihu's population has been growing faster than that of any other district in Taipei, and its single, medium-capacity MRT line was crowded upon opening and has only become more crowded since.
Several cheaper solutions have been floated, including HOV lanes, bus lanes and wider bridges (though for some reason not more cars on Neihu Line trains, which I thought was in the works already). The first two of these make sense, because they encourage more efficient use of space and energy. The most interesting suggestion however is a new MRT line linking Neihu to Xinyi. Such a line is already in Taipei's long-term plan but the alignment is bad: it makes a big semioval from Jiannan Rd. east into central Neihu then west to Minsheng Community, lengthening trip times; it crosses paths with the Songshan and Xinyi Lines but doesn't have transfers to them (not to mention to the TRA); and it doesn't actually pass through any major economic centers, forcing passengers to transfer to get where they're likely to go.
Luckily Taipei is planning an entirely new line. According to one report, this line would start at Xiangshan (hopefully as a branch of the Xinyi Line for better integration into the system), have transfers to the Bannan Line at Yongchun and the Songshan Line at Songshan, and then proceed to Neihu Science Park. This routing would both provide better connections to the rest of the MRT system and the TRA and appears to offer a more direct route. Assuming it is a branch of the Xinyi Line it would also provide direct access to at least one major economic center, the Taipei 101 area.
A route down Keelung Rd. would be even more ideal, as that could link directly to City Hall as well as 101 and Songshan, and could then be extended to Liuzhangli and Gongguan, also an important commercial area, and then into the underserved eastern section of Yonghe and Zhonghe. However, this current proposal would still be a very useful addition to Taipei's transit network.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Ko Wen-je and Lin Yu-chang Push for Nangang to Keelung MRT

One of Ko Wen-je's first moves after being elected mayor of Taipei was declaring support for a Nangang to Keelung MRT line, as part of a plan to build "youth housing" in Keelung. Although extending the MRT to Keelung seems to make sense and appears to be popular in Xizhi and Keelung, it hasn't gone anywhere- and for good reason.
For one thing, the route is already served by the TRA. Yes, the MRT is a good deal more pleasant and better-run, but given that MRT is supposed to stop at least once every two kilometers it's hard to see how it could be as fast as the TRA, even allowing for lower headways. What's more, the TRA is already slower than freeway buses, at least during off-peak.
There's also the question of demand: it isn't clear that enough people want to travel between Keelung and Taipei to justify an additional rail line. Even Keelung Station doesn't get a whole lot of ridership, with 6.5 million rides last year- about the same as Yingge and far fewer than Shulin, Taoyuan or Zhongli. Except for Songshan all the other stations between Taipei and Keelung have even fewer passengers.
Even if we assume there is sufficient unmet demand, the case for a new MRT line isn't obvious. Increasing capacity on the TRA could be sufficient, and would avoid the steep price tag of a whole new MRT line. The government has already taken some steps to do this, by adding a third track to a section of the TRA line near Nangang, but there are still only 11 trains per direction during rush hour- far fewer than many other similar rail systems manage in other countries. Longer trains could also be considered, as well as larger doors and level boarding to speed passenger flow and shorten dwell times. If capacity really does hit a maximum, perhaps it would be possible to add even more 3-track segments, 3-track the whole line, or rebuild curvy sections to shorten travel time. This would be expensive, but it would presumably still be cheaper than a whole new MRT line, and would provide much better connectivity with the rest of the TRA system. Turning lanes on the freeway into bus-only lanes could also increase the transportation capacity between Taipei and Keelung.
If bus lanes and upgrading the TRA isn't enough, then an MRT line would make sense- but not for bringing people from Keelung to Taipei. An MRT line could provide local, short distance service, with connections to major TRA stations providing transfers to TRA trains, which would provide express service. Such a line could probably terminate at Wudu or at the farthest Baifu, beyond which there simply aren't that many people until you get to downtown Keelung. Ideally the Bannan Line would be extended, though the current government claims that any Bannan Line extension would be blocked by the TRA and HSR and would therefore be impossible. Alternatives include extending the as-yet-unbuilt Minsheng-Xizhi Line, as the KMT appears to favor, or extending the Neihu Line. Ko and Keelung mayor-elect Lin Yu-chang seem to prefer starting a new line from Nangang, though that would force everyone bound for Taipei to transfer and make such a line less appealing than the TRA.
Even if there is too much demand for any of the above ideas to handle, then a whole new express line could be considered- but an MRT line, as it is defined in Taiwan right now, would probably still be too slow to compete with current options.
Although it's great that the Taiwanese electorate is still supportive of MRT, the government should still only build it when it's actually appropriate. There should also be a concerted effort to improve the TRA, which is all too often treated as a tourist attraction, rather than as the serious transportation system it is for hundreds of thousands, and could be for hundreds of thousands more.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Taoyuan MRT Green Line Gets the Green Light

From Taoyuan County's Bureau of Transportation

The planned Green Line of the Taoyuan MRT was approved by the Environmental Protection Administration this past week, paving the way for its construction to begin next year, for completion in 2021 at the earliest. The Green Line, also called the Aerotropolis Line, will run roughly perpendicular to the TRA's Main Line, linking Dayuan, Luzhu, Taoyuan City, Bade and the planned Aerotropolis development near Taoyuan Airport. It will connect with the Airport Line as well as the TRA at Taoyuan Station. It will be 27.8km long with 21 stations and cost NT$98.9 billion ($US3.3 billion) to build (US$118.7 million/km), 35% of which will be paid by the central government, with the rest covered by the county and paid for through operational profit and returns on land acquired through eminent domain. The Taoyuan County government estimates it will ridden about 200,000 times daily (some reports claim 500,000 but this seems unrealistic).
To get the plan passed the Taoyuan County government promised to decrease the amount of public land it would appropriate around three stations by 95%, effecting only 7 residences of the 147 in the original plan. This would leave one station, at the intersection of Zhongzheng and Minguang Roads, without any exits, though the county still plans to build the station in the hope that further discussions with property owners will lead to a breakthrough. (They claim it would be used by 20,000 commuters a day- between 10 and 15 million exits and entrances a year). The government also promised to use the same strict standards when appropriating land for stations within the Aerotropolis, and to take steps to protect nearby historic sites and to minimize traffic disruption.
In terms of building a mass transit network in Taoyuan this line makes a lot of sense- it follows the most built-up corridor in Taoyuan County, complements the TRA and will improve mass transit for the most people in the most efficient way possible. Furthermore, unlike in Taichung and Kaohsiung, Taoyuan residents already have a propensity to use mass transit- in fact Taoyuan's mass transit mode share is higher than either despite not having any MRT lines. I think this is less because of "habit" and more because of the narrow, unplanned streets that make driving difficult, in addition to large numbers of people who commute to Taipei, which for many people is probably cheaper and easier to do by mass transit than by driving.
It's also good to see that the government is being more respectful of people's property rights, though it's hard to tell if this one case really means anything. Also, because the MRT line is a public service that can't be relocated or built by the private sector alone this is a situation where eminent domain is more forgivable, in contrast to eminent domain for the sake of development, such as with the Aerotropolis.
Finally, this is the first time that I know of that an MRT line has been build under a narrow street in Taiwan, and I'm curious to see how it will turn out. As you can see from the image below, at the intersection where there will be a station with no exits, building exits will be impossible without taking private land. I hope they replace the parking space with some sidewalks though:

View Larger Map

Saturday, May 31, 2014

New Details on the Direct Taipei-Yilan Rail Line

From the MOTC's Railway Reconstruction Bureau
The Ministry of Transportation's Railway Reconstruction Bureau recently held a public meeting about possible routes for a more direct railway line between Taipei and Yilan.  There are two proposals: a shorter route that would roughly parallel National Highway 5, and a longer one that would cross under Pingxi and meet the current Yilan Line at Shuangxi, before turning south and merging with the Yilan Line just north of Daxi.  This route would include a station at Shuangxi to allow transfers to the Yilan Line.  Because the Taipei City government is opposed to the first option because it would cross through the Feicui Reservoir watershed, the second, longer route is more likely to be chosen.  This route would cost NT$49.1 billion (US$1.6 billion) to construct, an average of US$30.2 million a kilometer.  Taroko or Puyuma express trains would be 18 minutes faster, taking as little as 45 minutes to get from Taipei to Jiaoxi, while conventional Tse-Chiang trains could save 38 minutes, shortening trips to as little as 50 minutes.  Once the new line is complete the old line would remain in service.  The earliest possible date for completion is 2031, and construction is expected to take 9 years.
Support for the line is far from unanimous.  It would still cross through reservoir catchment areas, and near many old mine shafts.  Environmentalists worry that it will damage relatively untouched ecosystems.  At least one legislator thinks 18 minutes isn't worth nearly NT$50 billion, and that money would be better spent upgrading the TRA.
Some of these fears are certainly overblown- presumably this wouldn't be the world's first rail line built around old mine shafts.  The key questions should be will the environmental benefit of fewer people driving be worth the damage caused by its construction, and will the line earn enough money to justify its cost.  Though this line might save "only" 18 minutes, that should be enough to draw many people out of cars and planes and onto trains, boosting the TRA's revenue and cutting down carbon dioxide emissions.  It could also obviate the need for future road and highway expansion.  There's no way of knowing unless the government does a more complete study.