Traffic > Gridlock

7 things we love about Taipei traffic

Our MMDA could learn from the capital city of Taiwan

Now that Taiwan has relaxed visa requirements for citizens of the Philippines, you’re free to visit and explore the country to your heart’s content. When you make your way around the capital city, take a look at the way they handle traffic. We found a few things we really love about the way they manage things in Taipei, and we’d like to share them with you.

1. Four-way pedestrian crossings. An interesting feature at many junctions in the city is the time-restricted four-way crosswalk for pedestrians. During certain times of the day—indicated on the road for easy guidance—instead of having to cross one and then the other road to get where you want to go, you can simply cut straight across the junction. A simple idea that saves some time.

There are designated times when pedestrians are allowed to cross an intersection diagonally. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

2. Motorbike boxes at traffic lights. Every driver who ever stopped at a traffic light in Metro Manila knows this situation: motorcycles jostling for position alongside cars at a red light, with many a mirror having been knocked off and countless car doors having been scratched in the process. There’s no such chaos in Taipei, where traffic lights have special motorbike boxes painted at the forefront. Everyone on two wheels simply stops there, and as bikes usually accelerate away faster than cars or trucks when the lights go green, the whole two-wheeled stampede can set off safely and without bumping into anyone on four wheels. The motorbike riders also arrive at the next traffic light before anyone else to repeat the process. A simple and clever way to separate bikes and cars.

Car drivers respect the road space allotted for motorbikes. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

3. Motorbike parking everywhere. Cycle around Makati and you will be hard-pressed to find any official parking spots for bicycles or scooters, and the same can be said about most other cities in the metro. Where it is completely normal to offer parking outside of shops and on sidewalks in many countries, it seems that in the Philippines two-wheeled travelers are still considered second-class citizens. Not so in Taipei, where a lot of people like to use motorbikes to go around the city, and parking is available almost everywhere. No need to find the nearest underground car park that happens to allow bikes. Just park at any of the marked spots on sidewalks all around town and go about your business.

It's refreshing to see motorbikes neatly parked within specially marked areas. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

4. Bicycle paths everywhere. It’s always nice to see a city that has dedicated (and respected) bicycle lanes. Manila is in desperate need of more support for cyclists, and an increase in the meager number of bike paths would be a start. Taipei has plenty of them, and they all seem clearly marked and well maintained.

Pedal all you want, why don't you? PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

5. The brilliant bicycle-sharing system. Bike paths are no good without any bikes using them, and to ensure that citizens and visitors can move around in a healthy and environment-friendly way, the city is operating the Taipei Bike-Sharing System, better known as YouBike. There are rental stations all across town, and you simply use the same card that allows you to travel on the subway and buses to rent a bike. Or you can use your credit card if you’re from out of town.

We've seen bicycle-sharing programs in Metro Manila, but we need to do it on a grander scale and with more commitment. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

6. Painted sidewalks on roads with no concrete sidewalks. What do you do if a road is not suitable for a proper raised sidewalk? Simple: You paint one! We saw this on numerous narrow backstreets in the country’s capital. Thanks to strict enforcement and good traffic discipline, people do respect these markings and pedestrians can walk around that little bit more safely.

Even for roads without physical sidewalks, the authorities make it easy and safe for pedestrians to walk. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

7. Functioning traffic marshals. While there might be traffic enforcers at almost every junction in Metro Manila, their benefit to traffic flow can often appear mysterious to the average motorist, and the way they use all sorts of hand signals and body movements to direct vehicles around looks more like a mix between the chicken dance and an epileptic seizure, rather than any kind of organized effort. Traffic marshals in Taipei are a little more coordinated, with all of them wearing high-visibility clothing and carrying illuminated wands that they use to efficiently direct traffic and guide pedestrians across the road. Most importantly, they appear to be working with the traffic signals and not against them. No random waving-cars-through-a-red-light like in Manila—just a well-designed traffic system that is complemented by human guides who do not feel the need to override it.

Here, traffic enforcers actually help direct the flow of traffic—not look for a way to extort money from motorists. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

All in all, a visit to Taipei is a great idea if you fancy a getaway to a vibrant and fascinating city. And the way they handle traffic really adds to the pleasant atmosphere of the place. Consider this destination the next time you get consumed by wanderlust.

Frank Schuengel

Frank is a German e-commerce executive who loves his wife, a Filipina, so much he decided to base himself in Manila. He has interesting thoughts on Philippine motoring.