Fri, Sep 22, 2006 - Page 14 News List

Paradise regained on the city's mean streets

Ironically, perhaps, the government has chosen Sunday instead of Saturday for Car Free Day as there is less traffic

By Jules Quartly  /  STAFF REPORTER

A skateboarding dog reclaims the streets.

PHOTO: JULES QUARTLY, TAIPEI TIMES

Adog skateboards down a car-free street and a phalanx of cyclists rushes unimpeded down the wide avenue of Renai Road, as pedestrians wander around pleasantly surprised by the lack of traffic and relative peace of the normally busy city.

Taipei has been organizing Car Free Day activities for four years, joining other cities and towns around the world in promoting an alternative and ecologically friendly urban environment.

Once again, on Sunday, some of the city’s main roads will be closed off to cars. The Xinyi district will be free of automotives between 9:30am and 5pm and pedestrians will take over the city’s mean streets.

As well as enjoying what organizers are calling a “car-less paradise” visitors will be treated to entertainment at the Warner Village complex and Taipei City Government Hall plaza. In previous years there were theater and music shows, plus BMX bike demonstrations.

Also, it is expected that Taipei City Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) will be joined by officials and city residents on a bike trip beginning in the plaza outside City Hall on 1 Shifu Road (台北市市府路1號).

Participants are expected to gather from 6:30am and will pedal off around 8am along many of the city’s main roads before the ride ends after 9km at Zhonghe No. 4 Park (中和4號公園). Around 2,000 bicyclists will be allowed to take part.

In a prepared statement, Ma said Car Free Day would “reduce noise and pollution and make the city a healthier and quieter place.”

He said Taipei would hold a “Mass Transit Month” until Oct. 22. Activities, concerts and Web games will be used to promote the use of public transport, he announced.

Ma invoked parallels with other cities worldwide that celebrate International Car Free Day every Sept. 22. According to international organizers over 100 million people in about 1,500 cities will participate in the annual event.

Ironically, perhaps, a Taipei City Government spokesperson said it was more convenient to celebrate International Car Free Day a day late on Sunday because traffic was less congested.

She added that previous Car Free Days in Taipei had not been that popular because there was a lack of understanding about the event. Instead of being inspired by the empty streets residents had been put out by the road closures, she said.

As with many other successful civic ideas — such as a beach by the river in Paris — Car Free Day was born in France on Sept. 22, 1998 and quickly spread throughout Europe and the world.

In Europe the day has morphed into “Mobility Week,” which aims to stimulate debate about the need for a change in behavior, particularly in regard transport and its impact on climate change.

Taichung will also be getting involved this year and “in response to the 922 car-free day” will also host a 16km bike road on Sunday, according to the city government’s Web site.

For further information in Chinese and English about Car Free Day in Taipei and Taichung visit www.taipei.gov.tw and www.taichung.gov.tw.

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