An Argument for Less Slippery Sidewalks

While enjoying a picnic lunch in a park gazebo on a rain soaked afternoon recently, I watched a foreign couple scampering from shelter to shelter trying to stay dry under their undersized umbrellas. Due to the sheer volume of rain for the previous days there were deep, foot drenching puddles which were best avoided.

The guy jumped a tiny baby hop over the puddle in his shoes, the girl side stepped the deepest part in her sandals. The guy fell flat on his ass, and the girl didn't.

This is from where I was sitting when he fell. He slipped on the exact same tiles which - seen here - are obviously an accident waiting to happen. Get off balance for a single second, and down you'll go.

At the risk of jinxing myself to fall and break something, I'd like to say that Taiwan on a rainy day becomes half ice rink half obstacle course. Visitors be warned, and residents, be re-warned.

The above sidewalk is outside of a massive twenty story apartment complex. Children at the English school downstairs wait until it rains to use this space as a giant slip and slide. Standing slides quickly turn into full on spills as they jeer each other to go faster. 

Yet it's also the primary sidewalk for this entire neighborhood. How can any human in dress shoes, high heels, or wearing something with worn soles be expected not to fall flat on their ass?

Oh, how many times have I seen people walking and just go down on the slippery surfaces that cover this island! Woe to the bikers who dare to turn or ride legs akimbo on a day with even a hint of moisture! High heel wearers bring your elbow pads!

EVERYONE who lives in Taiwan has a story about an epic spill they or someone they've known has taken. Every painted line on the road, every corner you take on a tiled sidewalk, every time you go from a wet space to a dry one is a time you could fall.

All this because everyone lines the ground in front of their buildings in perfectly flat (or polished!) flag stones and tiny tiles like you'd find in a bathroom with NO texture. 

They're great at moving water towards a drain and some of the tiles must be super cheap to lay, by hand, and repair constantly. Surely there is no better choice for the cost and labor conscious among us? 

There is.

The outside red tiles are basically just cement and are full of texture so you can walk or bike at a normal pace without any problems. Thank you Taipei City. The inside checkered tiles chosen by the landlord are the same ones that people worry about people falling on in the bathroom. If you don't walk at a snails pace you're doomed to fall. Didn't they invent those life alert bracelets for just this kinda thing?

Finally, going from a wet surface to dry ones is a great way to go down. To a Taiwan outsider this is comic advice really, only given to the elderly and infirm. Sadly, it is a frighteningly common problem along any street due to the covered store fronts that let out into side streets or driveways which are soaked in inches of water.

To wit I reach the conclusion that it's unreasonable to make everyone tile everything in pedestrian friendly tiles like Taipei uses. Yet all of these ceramic and marble surfaces can be textured without destroying the aesthetics, freedom of choice, or boosting prices. I ask "is polished marble really a good choice for the outside flooring - and driveway - of your high class hotel?" The answer apparently is yes.

This is one area that Taiwan has never - and will never - make any sense to me because it's so easy not to build death trap sidewalks. But really, be very very careful on rainy days.