Editor’s Note: Sign up for Unlocking the World, CNN Travel’s weekly newsletter. Get news about destinations opening, inspiration for future adventures, plus the latest in aviation, food and drink, where to stay and other travel developments.
It’s been nearly two months since Taiwan lifted its entry restrictions and ended mandatory quarantine, allowing most international tourists to visit the island.
The government has since vowed to boost its tourism offerings and attract 10 million international visitors by 2025 after losing out on tourist revenue amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
But in order to lure and retain international tourists, critics say Taiwan must first improve its road safety – for drivers and pedestrians alike.
The island may be renowned for its cuisine, natural scenery and hospitality – but it is also notorious for its dangerous roads. Multiple countries, including Australia, Canada, Japan and the US, have specifically called out Taiwan’s road conditions.
“Be alert for the many scooters and motorcycles that weave in and out of traffic…Exercise caution when crossing streets because many drivers do nolt respect the pedestrian’s right of way,” the US State Department warns.
The Canadian government is more blunt: “Motorcycles and scooter drivers don’t respect traffic laws. They are extremely reckless.”
Danger on the road
A Facebook page that has recently gone viral in Taiwan pulls no punches in its name: “Taiwan is a living hell for pedestrians.” Founded in December 2021, the page has nearly 13,000 followers a year later.
Returning to his native Taiwan after a stint living in Melbourne, Australia, Ray Yang, the page’s founder, said the reverse cultural shock of “nearly getting run over” by motorists prompted him to start the page.
“Cities in Taiwan share a major issue – a lack of pavements and consistent walkways for pedestrians,” Yang told CNN Travel.
According to government statistics, 42% of roads in urban areas have sidewalks. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. The roads can be narrow, full of parked scooters and cars, blocked by lamp posts and transformer boxes, and occupied store fronts with plants or signboards. Pedestrians are then often “forced” to walk onto car lanes, Yang said.
Moreover, some pedestrian pavements are a patchwork of patios – known in Taiwan as qilou – built from different surfaces and heights, adversely impacting their walkability.
Parents with babies and small kids sometimes have to carry the strollers by hand as they make their way through, while wheelchair users are forced to zigzag in and out of car lanes and the walkways which are at times obstructed.
Pedestrians often have to fight for their right of way with cyclists and motor vehicle drivers as they cross the road or walk on pavements, Yang added.
“In Taiwan, there is a common saying that the characteristic friendliness of Taiwanese people vanishes as soon as they get behind the steering wheel,” says Professor Cheng Tsu-Jui of Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University.