Sun, Jan 18, 2015 - Page 1 News List

Taipei pedestrian zone shut down in new two-part poll

By Abraham Gerber  /  Staff reporter

People pack a street closed to vehicles at an intersection in the Gongguan pedestrian zone in Taipei yesterday.

Photo: CNA

Taipei held a historic local referendum yesterday, as residents and business owners in the capital’s Gongguan (公館) business area voted to overturn a pedestrian zone.

Of residents and business owners who participated in the poll, 71 percent rejected the zone, which barred entry of cars and scooters into five alleyways on weekends and holidays.

“Both the earlier i-voting and today’s physical [ballot] have moved public policy in Taiwan a step forward,” Taipei Department of Transportation Commissioner Chung Hui-yu (鍾慧諭) said, while announcing that the zone would be discontinued in accordance with poll results.

The department last week held a “referential” and open online “i-voting” poll to gauge the views of pedestrians who frequented the zone during weekends.

Chung said yesterday’s poll was the first time that the capital’s residents had been allowed to vote directly on policies that affect their local area.

The department called the vote after its introduction of the pedestrian zone aroused opposition from local businesses.

While the municipality said that the district increased business revenue by doubling foot traffic, many local businesses countered that revenue suffered after they became less accessible to their clientele who travel by scooter or car.

Yesterday’s referendum let business owners and residents within the pedestrian zone vote on its continuation, with votes from residents and business owners weighted such that each accounted for 50 percent of the final results.

In another first, voting age for participation in the poll was set at 18, rather than 21, as in elections.

The referendum drew praise from residents and businesses.

A woman surnamed Tseng (曾) said that she thought having a referendum was “awesome,” and a sign of democratic progress, adding, however, that the process was rushed, with only one week between the poll’s announcement and the final vote.

The vote also provided the transportation department a graceful way to drop an unpopular policy, said Wen Shao-hung (溫紹宏), a restaurant owner and the warden of the borough that encompasses most of the pedestrian zone.

“If they had not taken this measure, it would have been difficult to end the policy,” he said, adding that the department should have known the referendum would not allow the zone to remain, given the strong opposition expressed by businesses in the area.

The department previously said that there was opposition only from some businesses, adding that the zone was popular with pedestrians.

The strong feelings of business owners were reflected in the turnout, with 56 percent of eligible business owners voting, compared with just 10 percent of eligible residents.

Registration for the i-voting poll drew 3,578 people from across the nation. Of those, 70 percent approved of continuing the zone, with a turnout rate of 42 percent.

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