22 September is International Car Free Day. The event began in Paris in 1998 and is now held in cities around the world. This year marked the seventh year Car Free Day activities have been held in Taipei.
I last participated in Taipei’s Car Free Day bike ride back in 2006. In previous years there has been a combined event for Taipei City and County, however this year there were two separate rides. On Saturday there was a ride from Yonghe to Xindian in Taipei County and then on Sunday a ride from Taipei City Hall to Gongguan.
Saturday’s ride began at the riverside park in Yonghe. I joined with a group from the Taiwan Green Party who staged a protest against the planned Dan-Bei Expressway. This proposed road would have impacts on the Hongshulin mangrove forest as well as leading to increased traffic and CO2 emissions. The government wants to start the project without doing an environmental impact assessment. A good background on the issue can be found in this feature from the Taipei Times.
The protest was met with a strong response from police who actively prevented the protesters from entering the starting area of the ride. They also used excessive force to restrain a female protester. The Green Party website has a report in Chinese with video.
Taipei County Commissioner Chou Hsi-wei (周錫瑋) participated in the bike ride. The Taipei Times reported that he announced the Taipei County Government will spend NT$770 million to improve bicycle paths and encourage people to commute by bicycle. However, the contradiction in government policy is obvious. On the one hand they are promoting cycling and “low carbon lifestyles” while on the other they are developing infrastructure that will lead to large increases in carbon emissions.
Sunday’s ride in Taipei City was less controversial. Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) welcomed participants at the start of the ride and spoke about Taipei City’s efforts to promote sustainable transport. While I agree some notable and significant work has been done by the Taipei City Government, there is a long way to go before Taipei can really claim to be a green city.
The ride followed a route along Ren’ai Road, turning right into Fuxing South Road, through the NTU campus and finishing at the riverside park in Gongguan. It is always great to see young children out on the road accompanied by their parents. If they can learn to enjoy cycling when they are young then this will help promote cycling in the future.
There is another activity for Car Free Day in the Xinyi District tomorrow (Monday 22 September). The area around Taipei City Hall will be closed to traffic. While it is nice for the government to organise events like this, Car Free Days haven’t resulted in any significant changes to car usage in Taipei. If the government is serious about reducing carbon emissions and making the roads safer then they need to start putting in place long term policies to achieve these goals.
*more photos in the Car Free Day 2008 set at flickr.