Starting in the late 19th century and well into the 1960s, what is today known as Yanping North Road (延平北路) was the most bustling roadway in not only Dadaocheng, but in all of Taipei, connecting the north and south, as well as leading to Taipei Bridge (台北橋, the bridge famous nowadays for the organized chaos of its morning scooter commuters). This was before Taipei had large highways to relieve downtown traffic, and before the east district (東區) took over as Taipei's main center of commerce.
Although today's Yanping North Road looks much like most other large streets in Taipei, at its busiest, the road was lined with shops which supplied much of Taipei, and the nearby residential population was, as a result, quite sizable. In other words, the district was crowded, traffic was heavy, and getting around on foot could be both inconvenient and dangerous. Students from Yanping North Road's Taiping and Yongle Elementary Schools (太平國小 & 永樂國小), which sit directly across from each other, would certainly have found navigating the busy street a challenge.
To cope with this situation, in 1968, local residents banded together to raise money for a pedestrian bridge. The bridge would be located at the intersection of Yanping North Road and Liangzhou Street, and would link the two elementary schools, allowing students to cross safely. The residents gathered NT $400,000 for the purpose, handing the money over to the Taipei City government to handle construction of the bridge. When the bridge was completed, it was Taipei's first ever pedestrian bridge, and it still stands today.
These days, Yanping North Road isn't quite as hectic as it once was, though it still is a major thoroughfare for traffic through Datong District (大同區). The elementary schools now have crossing guards, city buses have stops right in front of the schools, and lines of cars form at the end of each school day, when parents come to retrieve their children. There are also traffic lights and crosswalks just next to the schools, and as such the bridge is no longer used as much as it did in the past.
Taipei City government is now looking into demolishing the city's pedestrian bridges, as most do not receive much foot traffic. Recently, the city did a test run, closing some bridges and collecting resident feedback about how much use they are getting out of the bridges, and this test included the Yanping North Road pedestrian bridge. To be clear, the bridge is not in disrepair, but naturally the city is always looking for ways to reduce costs for infrastructure upkeep. A decision has not yet been made, but surveyors returned this week to evaluate the site, prompting local school and community organization representatives to gather to express their hope that the bridge can be preserved.
Unfortunately, this piece of Taipei history could still soon be lost. What makes this bridge special is not only that it was the first, but that it was the product of Taipei citizens coming together to do something for the collective good. These days, in a city whose residents are often accused of being cold and unfriendly compared to residents of other cities and small towns in Taiwan, the bridge serves as a nice reminder of what it is like to have a real community which works together to find solutions that benefit all. What's more, Dadaocheng residents have suggested that the bridge can become a canvas for local artists or schoolchildren, helping it to become both a landmark worthy of visiting and a symbol of community building for our bustling city.
Let's hope that the city opens its eyes and sees that sometimes, "usefulness" is not the only measure of importance for an object of city infrastructure. Meaning cannot always be derived quantitatively -- it's the stories and the people behind historic spots, as well as their future potential, that make them worth preserving.