Crossing the Street: Tips for Foreign Pedestrians in Taipei

Photo by Jiachen Lin on Unsplash

The Taiwan Context

If you are in Washington State, USA, and you stand within ten feet of a crosswalk or even look like you might be considering crossing and cars will screech to a halt. Do the same in Massachusetts, on the other side of the country, and you might just get hit out of spite. 

The rules, written and unwritten, of traffic and pedestrian laws and etiquette are tricky to decipher especially in new country. In India you just walk, in Japan you must wait, certain countries in Central America, you should run. For foreigners new to Taiwan, we’re here for you, and we’re still learning some of these conventions ourselves.  

Crossing the Street: Tips for Foreign Pedestrians in Taipei 1
Photo by Lisanto 李奕良 on Unsplash

Taipei, in recent years has gotten a bad rap for being a “living hell for pedestrians.” Its traffic sometimes elicits similar complaints from crotchety members of the expat crowd who have forgotten how nice they have it — perhaps they just have a redisposition to grouching. Yes, rush hour in Taipei, especially when it’s raining, can be an ordeal. However, by in large when the traffic in Taipei is compared to Hong Kong, Bangkok, Manila, Hanoi, or other places in Asia, and it is relatively tame. Our herds of turtles (this writer’s affectionate term for the scooter hordes racing from light to light), generally play nice with others, and the city buses are fairly good at dodging cars, pedestrians, and other traffic hurdles. Taipei might not have Singapore’s savoir faire or the calm of Seoul, but it is not the wild west of Asia or the hellscapes that define some American cities. 

Nonetheless, in recent months, traffic rules and pedestrian right of ways have found themselves at the center of Taiwan’s public and online discourse. 

In June of 2023, as a part of an attempt to improve conditions for pedestrians the government passed new regulations which raises the amount a driver can be fined for not yielding to a pedestrian, to 6,000 NT$. This penalty comes alongside a new 12 point infraction system where if a driver accumulates 12 driving infractions in the span of a year their license will be suspended for two months. Some citizens have criticized the measure as being too draconian and putting too much pressure on drivers who often have to deal with challenging behaviors from pedestrians. In recent weeks taxi drivers in major cities in Taiwan held strikes to ask the government to help amend the law which they feel unfairly targets them and consequently is making life Taiwan a “driving hell.” 

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Photo by Lisanto 李奕良 on Unsplash

This debate of pedestrian hell versus driving hell took off further over this past week in response to a middle school art piece which won recognition in the National Student Art Competition. 

The piece entitled “Emperor’s Clause” shows a pedestrian styled as the Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, strolling across a crosswalk, oblivious to the consternation and feeling of the drivers around him, while dragging a pet tortoise in tow. 

Those in favor of the government’s regulations say that the cartoon and the award is degrading to pedestrians and the governmental efforts. Those who feel the new rules have gone too far applaud the illustration which they say highlights the inequity that unfairly prioritizes pedestrians. Most online, however, simply are applauding the image as a wonderful piece of humorous social commentary, the likes of which one might expect to see in the New Yorker. 

We’ll leave you to determine where you stand. 

The Emperor’s Clause:

Crossing the Street: Tips for Foreign Pedestrians in Taipei 3
Image Credit: Dongsing Junior High School via X

Rules of the Road for Foreigners:

  • The general rule of thumb is only cross at cross walks and when you get a walk light. In places that do not have walk lights, cross when there is a gap in the traffic or when a car stops for you. 
  • Do not assume right of way. As a foreigner you will often be given more attention, space, and respect by drivers, however, do not assume or abuse this. Remember that you are not an emperor, you are guest, and as such should be courteous.
  • Do not walk in the bike lanes! Or keep your head on a swivel when/if you do so.
  • Pay attention to the lights. They are on patterns that will allow you to track when it is your turn. 
  • Follow the lead of others within reason. Crossing with a group of people or an elderly person is always preferred. However, do not simply jaywalk with them across a busy intersection. 
  • Exercise patience. Even if you are late for your job or a train, be patient at intersections, with traffic, and the occasional errant scooter driver. 
  • And remember to look both ways. 
  •  If you are driving or renting a car in Taiwan you will need an international drivers license. Scooters will require a different license.

And they’re off!

Crossing the Street: Tips for Foreign Pedestrians in Taipei 4
Taipei, Taiwan – September 25, 2019: Motorcycles go down the Taipei bridge during rush hour in the morning.


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