Yonsei-ro, Seoul’s First Transit Mall

Seoul_Transit_Mall (11)A transformation took place in Sinchon (신촌), a popular nightlife area in front of Yonsei University! Seoul forbids private cars on the main road Yonsei-ro since January 2014. This measure was accompanied by a overall facelift of that street. The 500 meters from Sinchon Station to Yonsei University became the first transit mall of Seoul. Last Friday I had the chance to explore the area. In my opinion, it is an outstanding project and the area improved immensely. Others areas in Seoul and all over Korea are going to get transit malls, too. Let me explain the details of Korea’s transit mall concept. I’ve made many pictures of the new Yonsei-ro in order to make it easier to understand. 

What Is a Transit Mall?

A transit mall is a street or area, where private vehicles are prohibited and only public transport (sometimes taxis), pedestrians and bicycles are allowed to use the roads. The first transit mall of Korea was built in Daegu. Another transit mall is planned in Busan (planned for this year). Sinchon is Seoul’s first transit mall.

Transit malls exist mainly in the USA, Australia and Britain. I’ve never saw such a concept before I went to Sinchon. From Germany I’m more familiar with shared space. It’s a very effective concept to boost public transport and improve the walking environment of an area. Seoul’s mayor Park Won-soon announced in 2012 that he wants to transform Seoul to a pedestrian-friendly city.

Exploring Sinchon’s Transit Mall

The construction of the transit mall in Sinchon begun in September 2013 and the changes have been completed within three months. The official “reopening” of the street was on January 6th 2014. The following map tries to shows where the area is.


The problem of the Yonsei-ro was that the street had four lanes and because of the huge amount of traffic, it was often congested. The majority of private vehicles just passed through the area but they caused air pollution and noise. The average speed of public transport in that area was lower than in other areas in Seoul. The amount of pedestrians is also very high and the sidewalks were too narrow.

So Seoul decided to try out the concept of a transit mall. In Korean the transit mall is called “대중교통전용지구”, which directly translates into “exclusive public transport zone”. That’s very interesting because “zone” implies that it isn’t limited to a street. I hope that they are going to expand the public transport-only policy to surrounding streets in Sinchon.

The yellow traffic sign on the main road informs drivers that private vehicles aren’t allowed to turn right into Yonsei-ro and a few meters later the blue sign says that this road is completely car (and bus)-free each Saturday from 2 pm to Sunday 10 pm. Taxis are allowed to enter the street from midnight to 4 am except for Saturday nights, when no cars are allowed to enter.

Seoul_Transit_Mall (9)Seoul_Transit_Mall (10)

The sidewalk is three times as wide as it was before:

Seoul_Transit_Mall (1)

Streets disappeared, public space was created. A variety of events is possible there!

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Seoul is unfortunately still trying to decrease the number of food stalls. Instead of forbidding street vendors completely, the district set up permanent stalls for them. I’m not sure how it looks at in the night, when usually most of the food stalls are set up. Maybe there are still street vendors with carts.

Seoul_Transit_Mall (15)

Only buses are allowed to use the Yonsei-ro. I saw a lot of tourist buses and all of them just passed through the area. Now it’s June and my impression was that half of the buses have been tourist buses. I’m concerned that there might come more tourist buses in July and August, too many for the new two-lane road.

Seoul_Transit_Mall (7)

Motorcycles and scooters aren’t actually allowed on the Yonsei-ro but they are still there. At least they are staying away from the sidewalk.

The area has three bus stations: Two stations are on the lane, which goes north (to Yonsei) and one station is on the opposite site. Eleven city bus lines (six green buses and five blue buses) as well as three local buses (Maeul-buses) are passing through Sinchon.

At the northern entry of the street was one traffic regulator:

Seoul_Transit_Mall (5)

She prevented cars from entering the street and pointed often towards the asphalt, which says that cars are forbidden:

Seoul_Transit_Mall (6)

Here’s one more traffic regulator, who takes care that private vehicles are only crossing the road. As you can see on his back, it says “모범, Best Driver”. All of these traffic regulators are former taxi-drivers, who performed very well in their job. They were chosen by Seoul to control the traffic, because they know the traffic the best and they know how to talk to taxi drivers.

Seoul_Transit_Mall (16)

There are two places, where cars have to cross the Yonsei-ro. Other roads have been blocked:

Seoul_Transit_Mall (2)

A nice change is that there is now a sidewalk under the rail bridge on the way to Yonsei University. A pedestrian crossing was also added on the left side in front of the main gate of Yonsei!

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Before that pedestrians had to pass through this underpass on the left:

Seoul_Transit_Mall (4)

Sinchon had a large crossing in the center. The street crossing Yonsei-ro there was closed and in result, a huge public space was created. There is a small stage for performances and a square for events. It is a great improvement in comparison to before.

Seoul_Transit_Mall (13)

Very interesting is an article, written by a Yonsei student, in the university’s journal “The Yonsei Annals“. The title of the article is “The Good, the Bad and the Transit Mall”. The introduction and description of the development is similar to my post but the author shows pros and cons. Even though I don’t agree 100% with him, I tried to summarize them:

Pros:

  • better traffic and walking environment, no air pollution
  • revival of campus culture in Sinchon
  • establishment of a public space to express opinion, discuss issues and get entertained
  • more visitors = more profit for retail
  • a cultural hub for young people

 Cons:

  • congestion on the streets surrounding the area
  • illegal parking of cars and taxi drivers
  • wooden platforms
  • strong enforcement necessary
  • jaywalking pedestrians
  • rising rents

About the wooden platform for buses: Later I’ll explain why the district decided to put up wooden platform. The general reason for a platform is that the sidewalk was lowered. In other words, there is no curb and the streets are on the same level as the sidewalk. In order to allow bus passengers a convenient entry to buses, a platform is necessary. Here you can see the wooden platform:

Seoul_Transit_Mall (12)

For the negative point of jaywalking pedestrians I have to say that the transit mall is a traffic-calmed area. The street was returned to the people. Even though it is mainly used by heavy vehicles, it doesn’t mean that pedestrians are not allowed to cross it anywhere they want AS LONG AS it is safe and they don’t impose a danger to other traffic participants.

Summary

The transit mall in Sinchon is actually a slow transition towards a car-free area. On weekends this road is already completely closed for any traffic. So I wonder why the local district didn’t prepare it a little bit better.  The concept of a transit mall is nice but in my personal opinion I believe that areas, which are suitable for transit malls, could be also transformed into pedestrian zones, totally car and bus-free. Or as an alternative would be a shared space

I made a video in order to show the traffic flow and how the traffic regulator takes care that nobody turns right or left into Yonsei-ro.

 

Related Sources and Information: Analysis of Daegu’s Transit MallConstruction of Transit MallOpening | Plans for Yonsei-ro

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About Nikola
Grad Student of Geography at Seoul National University, interested in transport and urban planning.

12 Responses to Yonsei-ro, Seoul’s First Transit Mall

  1. stephanemot says:

    This platform does look a bit weird! Overall the changes are very positive, particularly for the seamlessness of subwaybus connections.
    I like the way they created a delta at the Northern mouth of the street / Sinchon Rotary, and improved the subway exits. Maeul buses can pause and passengers hop on / off easily.
    As expected, car traffic was impacted around, but only Seongsan-ro was fixed a bit. New bottlenecks at the macro level too.

    • Nikola says:

      That’s true. The changes in front of Yonsei-ro are quite good. I can imagine that if they close the road completely, this “delta” will become a large bus station and allow a quick and convenient transfer to the subway.

  2. rickinasia says:

    I remember riding a bus from north of the campus to the subway station (aka enter the area from the north heading south). If the traffic was decently crowded our bus couldn’t go and we would watch people walking past us while we sat there taking a good 10 minutes to go those 500 meters. Usually the riders would get so agitated they would ask the driver to just open the door and let us out.

    The sidewalks were too narrow before. They are very nice now. I visited there only once and it was at night. I don’t remember the street vendors, but I remember I had to be careful not to trip on the wooden bus platforms. I also remember several spots where people were playing guitar with a crowd around them. It felt like some of the best parts of Hongdae were now stretched the one kilometer over to Yonsei’s main street.

    It feels safer, it is funner, and the area will only benefit. Thanks for all the pictures, your summary and the summary from the other individual.

    • Nikola says:

      I’ve never took a bus through the old Sinchon^^ I didn’t know that it was so bad!

      Yeah, Sinchon tries to attract the culture of Hongdae in some ways. That’s a good point.

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. James says:

    Thanks for the post Nikola! Wow, Yonsei-ro looks SO much better than before.

    I used to hang out in the area a lot and also often took Maeul Bus 03 up that street to the Yonsei Univ. back gate. Every time I took that bus, I totally had the same experience as rickinasia who commented that the “bus couldn’t go and we would watch people walking past us while we sat there taking a good 10 minutes to go those 500 meters.” Frustrating indeed. And trying to navigate the maddening crowds on the narrow sidewalks there was a major blood-pressure raiser, too. Looks like there’s a lot more space now and things look a lot more thoroughfare-friendly.

    Thanks to hearing about the new developments in your post, I’ll definitely be heading back there soon.

    Thanks again!

    • Nikola says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      I would love to hear your (new) impression of Sinchon. I wonder if it will meet the expectations which you got through my blog post :)

  4. Pingback: Facelift for Yonsei University Campus | Kojects

  5. eligreentea says:

    Hello Nikola,

    I really enjoyed reading your post on Seoul’s first transit-pedestrian mall. I am currently doing a research on good exemples of pedestrianized streets around the world because my city (Montreal, Canada) would like to potentially close a main street for traffic.

    I have a few questions I would like to ask you. I was wondering if you observed any type of conflict between the different street users (pedestrians, bikers and bus drivers)? Also, do you think bikers feel safe riding on the street considering there are no dedicated bike lanes (I don’t see any from your photos)? Are delivery trucks allowed on the street and if so, when are the controlled hours? Last question, do you think this street can be successful during the winter and if yes, what would be the factors of success?

    Thank you so much for your help!

    • Nikola says:

      Hey,

      it’s great to hear that Montreal plans to implement a similar measure! So let’s answer your questions…

      Conflict between street users?
      Generally there is a huge conflict between motorcycles and pedestrians because bikers often use the sidewalk or the pedestrian crossing to save some time. I believe that the situation got better thanks to the transit mall.
      Pedestrians jaywalk a lot in Sinchon now. However it doesn’t really cause conflict with buses. Nobody is directly jumping in front of a bus and the buses aren’t speeding. So pedestrians can see from the far if it’s safe to cross or not. I’m no sure if it changes at night with drunken people on the streets.

      Do bikers feel safe riding on the street?
      Actually, they aren’t allowed to drive through the transit mall. Signs clearly forbid motorcycles but it’s a little bit tricky because a lot of the motorcycles are food-delivery services. The restaurants are along the transit mall and so they have no other way than using it (maybe in some cases they could use the back-door of the building). Neither do the regulators try to stop them from driving on the street. I’m not sure if police fines them. I didn’t see a police car in the area when I was there.

      Delivery trucks?
      They can drive on the road from 10 to 11 am and 3 to 4 pm.
      I think I forgot to mention in my post that taxis are only allowed from midnight to 4 am in the morning.

      Success in winter?
      I haven’t been there in January and February, so I’m not really sure. The Yonsei-ro will always have a very constant flow of pedestrians because a lot of students get off the subway and walk to the campus. Maybe more important than the pedestrian flow is how many people are using the newly-created public space along the street. That will probably decrease in the winter. You have to know that most of the activities in Sinchon happens inside the restaurants, clubs and other amusement facilities. Thus, the weather doesn’t play a too important role.

      If you have any other questions, just ask me! You can also send me an email (kojects@gmail.com)!

    • rickinasia says:

      @GreenTea

      I was a little unclear as “bikers” sounds like motorcycles/scooters but “bike lane” sounds like bicycles. There are no bicycle lanes and I don’t remember seeing any in the transit mall when I visited last week. I don’t think that will be a problem as the area isn’t bus heavy and still plenty of road is open despite pedestrians crossing here and there. Speaking of bicycle lanes Goyang City has some nice ones at intersections next to the crosswalk. To see some images I recommend http://map.naver.com, “대화역” (copy-paste) is Daewha Station. On the right toolbar there is an upside down teardrop shape, white color. Click that and click on the street to see a streetview. I would say the same with the transit mall but I think it is too recent to have new images.

      In the transit mall there is one main street with a bunch of side streets that are rather small and are almost exclusively pedestrian by default. Only one of them that intersects the transit mall is blocked (pillars) the rest have a man in bright colored vest directing traffic to drive straight (the 5 meters to the other side). Honestly I would prefer the whole area/neighborhood to have the same ‘no car’ rules as the main street. I did notice a taxi didn’t heed the advice and drove through the main street behind a bus.

      One issue could be how comfortable people are with no cars. It could provide a false sense of security and they (as there is frequent jaywalking) could walk in front of a bus. With the drinking culture of this country it is a real possibility. But the buses are driving there carefully.

      At the southern side (Sinchon Station) the road connects to the intersection in a Y-shape and the city installed large planters (like the security barriers in front of embassies). They look nice as there are flowers on them and it stops traffic from the other side in coming into the transit mall area by mistake. It also works as a good line so both pedestrians and drivers know where the entrance completely is.

      This is the second transit mall in Korea with the first in Deagu. I have no information except I saw a journal article on it exists but I don’t have access.

      Best of luck with yours in Canada!

      • eligreentea says:

        Thank you very much for your response @Rickinasia and for sharing the street view of Goyang City. Indeed, those are great bicycle lanes!

        I will keep you posted with our pedestrianized street (hopefully) in Montreal! :)

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