Sun, May 15, 2005 - Page 17 News List

Education the key to pedestrian rights

Fines have not deterred motorbike and car drivers or illegal vendors from choking up sidewalks, but education could help

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taipei's mean streets are not just unsightly, they are also dangerous for pedestrians.

PHOTO:TAIPEI TIMES

Hardly a week goes by without the Taipei Times receiving at least one letter from a disgruntled foreign national expressing concerns about the disregard for even the most basic of pedestrian rights in Taiwan.

It might appear from reading these letters that the only people who show any concern for the rampant misuse of sidewalks and the blase attitudes of car and motorbike drivers, are the nation's expats.

The truth is very different, however, and expats are far from alone in their loathing of irresponsible shop owners/street vendors who illegally block sidewalks and drivers who believe that sidewalks and pedestrian crossings belong to them. Everyone, in fact, is keen to see a change in the way people view the unobserved rights of pedestrians, be they in Taipei, Kaohsiung or Kenting.

"I think that it's got to the stage now where many people feel that enough is enough," said Huang Shu-li of the Graduate Institute of Building and Planning at Taiwan National University. "Unfortunately, I don't think that [pedestrian rights] are high on the agendas of those in a position to do anything about it. I certainly don't think that the mayor of Taipei [Ma Ying-jeou, 馬英九] cares about it."

Like Huang, 68-year-old retired university librarian, Chen Mei-chun also believes that it's about time something was done to put an end to the poor manner in which pedestrians are treated. She doesn't care what the mayor thinks, however, as all she wants to do is to be able to walk to her local market without being run down by an irresponsible motorist.

The short walk to her local market on Taishun Street is fraught with danger. The sidewalk-less street is awash with unlawfully parked vehicles and vendors are crammed into the narrow roadside area designated for pedestrian use.

"It's terrible. I can't even walk out of the door of my family's apartment some days without having to avoid some kind of vehicle," said the retiree. "I have to walk less than 200m to the market, but there are cars and motorcycles parked everywhere. I have to walk in the road as there is no other way the get there."

"It is annoying and I get frustrated when I see someone on a motorcycle using the sidewalk, or I can't walk down it because some vendor has illegally set up shop," said Lo Jyuhn-sheng, director of Taipei's maintenance department, part of the public works bureau. "When I see someone doing it makes me mad. Of course, I'll politely tell them that they shouldn't do it, but I doubt that they would pay attention to me."

Motorcyclists caught flouting the law and impeding the rights of pedestrians do face fines, but they are minimal. And as anyone who has been run down by a wayward motorcyclist on the sidewalk will attest, the fines -- which range from NT$600 to NT$1,800 -- are clearly not a deterrent.

"It's like a game of `how close can I get before I hit someone,''" said European Chamber of Commerce Taipei (ECCT) CEO, Guy Wittich. "I watch my children all the time because you just don't feel safe on the [sidewalks]. It's almost like there's a thin line between life and death."

Every month Taipei City Government and the Taipei City Police Department receive dozens of letters of complaint from concerned citizens. And while the police encourage citizens to take an active role in trying to clean up the city, without photographic evidence the perpetrators cannot be punished. Because of this the city government has recently begun to encourage citizens to take photographs of wayward motorists.

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