Monday, September 26, 2011

Sanchong Sidewalk Wars

One of the most (and few) annoying things about living in Taiwan is the lack of sidewalks. Even when a street does have sidewalks there often isn't enough space for the mass of pedestrians, and some people are forced to walk in the street. Even though this is pretty much the rule rather than the exception in Taiwan, for some reason it has garnered the attention of the press in Sanchong.
Basically, after the MRT was extended to Sanchong, scooter drivers began parking on the sidewalk around the Sanmin High School MRT station, pretty much like they do everywhere in Taiwan. While it is gratifying to see the media pay attention to the plight of Taiwanese pedestrians, the solution is disheartening: "The Department of Transportation promised to add parking spaces on the sidewalk." In other words, the government not only will not help pedestrians, it will legalize the activity they are complaining about.
This is because the government, as well as drivers and media, see this as a problem of too few parking spaces. But this requires making the unspoken- and false- assumption that there is an unchanging number of drivers wishing to park near this MRT station. The falsity of this assumption is belied by the fact that the government had already added 300 parking spaces to solve the problem of parking on the sidewalk, but it "still wasn't enough". Basically, demand for traveling to Sanmin HS MRT is such that you would probably need hundreds more, perhaps thousands more, parking spaces to satisfy it, and these parking spaces would require a huge amount of space, and encourage driving which in turn further discourage walking.
Basically every time a government adds space for drivers, it will only offer temporary relief, if that, because once other people find out that finding a parking space has become easier or there's less congestion or that there's a more direct highway they can take, they will choose to drive. What's more, driving facilities in dense cities frequently come at the expense of pedestrian convenience, comfort and health. In effect, Taiwan, one of the planet's most crowded countries, has chosen to transfer huge amounts of public space to cars and scooters for low or no cost, despite the fact that private transport takes up huge amounts of space compared to mass transit or walking. I would bet that many of the drivers complaining about a lack of parking near Sanmin HS MRT would be willing to walk if Xinbei's government provided clear, adequately wide sidewalks and level crosswalks that can be crossed in a single light cycle.