Monday, September 24, 2012

New Taipei and World Car Free Day

Although most residents of Taiwan probably didn’t notice, last Saturday was World Car Free Day, intended to demonstrate that life is not only possible without cars, but better.  Many cities celebrate by banning cars from downtown streets or providing public transit discounts.  New Taipei had another idea however: making it easier for people to drive to an MRT station.
Specifically, the New Taipei Department of Transportation announced that one of their new measures to encourage “green transit” will be increasing car parking space near Dingxi MRT station.  For those who don’t know, Dingxi is one of only two rail stations in Yonghe district, which has 230,000 residents and 40,000 people per km2, the highest population density of any district or city in Taiwan, and is therefore singularly ill-suited to cars.  Dingxi is unsurprisingly one of the most heavily trafficked stations in the Taipei MRT, ranking 14th out of 89 stations in 2011 and averaging over 26,000 riders a day.  As anyone who has passed through Dingxi can attest, the crowds of people using the station walk there or take a bus, and what’s really needed is more sidewalk space to relieve the pedestrian gridlock on Yonghe Road.  Increasing space for driving will only encourage people to drive more and make walking more inconvenient- in other words will undermine the very goals of World Car Free Day- and regardless will only benefit a small fraction of the people who use Dingxi station.
New Taipei’s other new measures for World Car Free Day are less ridiculous and more banal.  Aside from Dingxi, the Department of Transportation chose two other rail stations- Danshui and Jingtong, in Pingxi- to be “green stations”.  Improvements planned include better pedestrian signage at Danshui and more bicycle “space” at Dingxi (no idea if that means lanes or parking space).  Another “improvement” is more plantings at all three stations, certainly a nice touch but of dubious environmental value.

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