Tue, Jan 13, 2015 - Page 3 News List

Fate of Gongguan pedestrian zone left to online vote

By Abraham Gerber  /  Staff reporter

Online voting will be held next weekend on the future of the pedestrian zone in Taipei’s Gongguan (公館) business area, Taipei Department of Transportation officials said yesterday, marking the first time that voting is to be held over the future of a traffic zone.

“While the public has welcomed the introduction of the Gongguan pedestrian zone, it is undeniable that some of the area’s vendors oppose it,” department planning division section chief Lee Kun-chen (李昆振) said.

Lee said the vote would help mediate between the conflicting stances of vendors and pedestrians that use the zone, tying into Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je’s (柯文哲) emphasis on public participation in policymaking.

Since the zone was implemented in August last year, cars and scooters have been barred from entering five of the district’s alleys during weekends and holidays. While the department estimates that the zone has doubled foot traffic during the hours in question, many local businesses claim its implementation has affected their operations.

“The department got the location of the pedestrian zone wrong,” said Wen Shao-hung (溫紹宏), who owns a restaurant in the pedestrian zone and is the warden of the borough that encompasses most of the zone. “We don’t have roadside stalls here. Most customers come to eat a lunchbox and then leave — they’re not here to hang out and walk around.”

He added that the zone’s restrictions have hurt business by making stores and restaurants less accessible to customers, many of whom used to arrive on scooters.

As a result, stores and restaurants within the pedestrian zone have lost business to those in more accessible alleys.

Lee said that voting on the zone’s future would be held in two phases. During the “referential” phase, people from around the city will be allowed to vote in a non-binding referendum on the zone’s future on Thursday.

Following this vote, the department will hold a binding poll of the zone’s businesses and residents, setting up a polling station on Saturday.

The zone’s trial period expired on Sunday.

Lee said the future of the zone would be determined by the poll of businesses and residents, because their support is crucial to the zone’s success.

In the past, all such pedestrian zones had been implemented in response to demands from businesses within the zones, he said, adding that if local businesses oppose the zone, continuing to implement it would be problematic.

“Allowing the order of our lives to be determined by voting from people on the outside is completely unacceptable,” Wen said.

Wen said he understands that the department needed to find a graceful justification to back away from the zone, but added that based on his own survey of the 169 businesses to be polled, 89 oppose the zone’s continuation.

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