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:

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  1. The section of the Zhonghe Line that goes under Jingan Road comes close. Two traffic lanes in each direction, but no parking lanes and the usual pathetic slivers of sidewalk.

    Good on Taoyuan, though I question the demand for commuting within Taoyuan. I think this will mostly serve to funnel even more people to the TRA station, which will make things even worse for commuter train capacity. I do wish there were SOMETHING between Taoyuan and Huilong so that a rail link between the two (the brown line in the map) could be viable. Such a line would be surprisingly time-competitive with the TRA for commuters to Taipei's east side, while also taking some pressure off of it.

    I haven't seen you write anything about Taichung's BRT line--what are your thoughts on the impending launch, which promises to be a shambolic mess? I think it's a good project but it's impressive how poorly it's been implemented.

  2. Yeah, I don't really know if there are any job centers in Taoyuan that this will serve, though given that it follows Taoyuan's developed area pretty closely it should be able to help some people get to work, in addition to feeding the TRA station. Also, it links to Nankan's bus terminal, which I think a lot of people use to get to Taipei, and the link to the airport line should generate a little traffic. Overall this seems more promising to me than most planned/under construction lines outside Taipei.
    As for the TRA, they're going to add a third track between Yingge and Taoyuan, which they claim will be enough to ease a bottleneck and fit in more trains, though from my experience that still won't be enough. I've read that the original TRA main line built by the Qing actually followed the Huilong to Taoyuan route, but the grade was too high and the track too curvy for trains to pick up speed so the Japanese rerouted it. With better tunneling and bridge building today you'd think it would make a lot of sense- you'd get a faster trip between Taipei and the west, and with an additional extension of the Xinzhuang Line Xinzhuang would have direct access to the TRA. It would probably require a lot of eminent domain though.
    I haven't had the chance to read up on Taichung's BRT line- I've read about it being half-finished but haven't read a lot of details. A lot of the criticisms I've seen have been of the "what is this weird BRT and why is it taking lanes from my car/scooter" variety, but I'll try to find out more about the problems. In principle it seems fine, even though I think light rail may have been a better choice, and they probably went overkill on the stations.

  3. Yikes, I thought the only unfinished parts were some stations and signal priority, but reading through the impressions of the launch it seems that some major segments of the dedicated lanes are still unfinished too. Now I understand even less why Hu is rushing this to launch so early--the election's still four months away and you would think it would benefit him more if the opening were in September or something, when everything would be finished and there would be time for a few weeks of non-revenue testing to iron out the kinks.

    Going back to the design of the system, though, I see a whole bunch of problematic aspects:

    1) The stations are, as you say, overkill. WAY too many moving parts. I can see the rationale behind fare gates because proof-of-payment isn't really a thing in Taiwan nowadays, but I see no reason for the platform gates. They just make it more difficult for drivers (there have been a lot of reports of drivers having trouble aligning the bus doors with the gates today) for no real safety benefit. Has there EVER been a case of a passenger being killed or even injured from being pushed/falling off the curb of a bus lane island station in Taipei? Meanwhile the design looks nice but doesn't do much in terms of providing shelter from the sun and rain. For Taiwan you really need a much wider roof that extends out to cover the bus lane as well, and ideally a solid wall for the sidewalk-facing side.

    2) No physical separation between the BRT lane and general traffic lanes. Why? Obviously this is a problem that could be solved with enforcement, but... well, Taichung traffic enforcement.

    3) No dedicated right-of-way in the central district. This is going to be by far the biggest problem, and granted the most difficult one to solve. The articulated buses are already causing huge traffic problems in the central district, and currently the system is running at only half the intended frequency--the chaos when 3-minute headway service starts is not going to be pretty. Of course, any effort at a dedicated right-of-way through the old downtown is going to encounter a lot of resistance, but right now this segment is looking like it's going to drag the whole thing down.

    I definitely think that the blue line should have gotten rail (though not street-running light rail, which will run into the same problems while costing a lot more money). A subway would even have given Taichung a chance to improve the Taiwan Boulevard corridor, like the way Xinyi Road was improved after the MRT construction. Too bad there's not going to be any way to fund that in the near future though.