body{background-attachment: fixed ! important; }

Friday, March 19, 2010

Cyclists As Equals?

A Change Is Gonna Come...

According to an article by Jason Kambitsis in Wired Magazine, The U.S. Department of Transportation is finally catching up with some other parts of the world in shifting from an automobile-centric approach to city planning, to a policy which puts cars, cyclists and pedestrians on equal footing... or at least if governments would like to receive a federal funding for transportation related projects. This is good news for those who are sick of seeing federal funding largely wasted the unsustainable dream of communities centered around the personal automobile. This dream was the dream of my grandfather who was known as one of the fathers of the Interstate 5 and former head of the Washington State Highway Dept. before the creation of the DOT. His generation believed the answer to congestion was to simply build more roads. This type of thinking has formed the core of DOT policy since its inception in 1966. During the campaign Barack Obama promised to seek significant changes in transportation policy and we are just beginning to see the results.

The policy statement reads, in part:
"Walking and bicycling foster safer, more livable, family-friendly communities; promote physical activity and health; and reduce vehicle emissions and fuel use,”
The Republican response can be read here:

"To laughter, Republican House members suggested LaHood was taking drugs, dismissed the very idea of bike lanes and derided any change to a car-dependent society."

Some American cities have already gotten on board. Portland Oregon is often rated the most bike friendly city in the United States, while other municipalities have crafted long term development plans focusing on bicycle transportation. The Seattle Bicycle Master Plan serves as an excellent blue print for other cities aiming to integrate cycling into their transportation infrastructure.

This is a fantastic development, but most parts of the United States have a long way to go to becoming more environmentally and cycling friendly. Whenever I go to the United States to visit, I am always amazed at how far everything is from home. When Americans want pet food or ice cream, they get in the car for five minutes to get to the strip mall. From an environmental standpoint, this is far from ideal.

If humans are going to make the most of their natural environment and leave a livable world for many more generations of people and creatures we need to learn to accept alternative models for living. Period!

This is where Taiwan comes in. As shocking and ridiculous as it may sound, Taiwan has the potential to become a leader in creating and promoting a more environmentally sound model of living. Crazy, I know.

Unlike the United States, Taiwanese life is concentrated in the urban centers. Everything a family needs can be found within walking distance from home. Rather than one mega-supermarket supplying huge blocks of the population, the corner 7-11 supplies many of our daily needs. There are really no suburbs. You are either in town or in the country. This is a huge advantage to building an infrastructure that is not centered around the automobile. If people can live and work within a walk or bike ride from home it greatly reduces our reliance on fossil fuels and becomes a highly efficient model for living. Ahhhh... the idealized future.

Unfortunately, Taiwanese localities remain aloof to the needs of cyclists. The infrastructure just does not exist in any reliable, interconnected form, to integrate cycling into the urban transportation system. There have been some efforts to make space on some trains and the High Speed Rail for mostly folding bikes and there are a few designated bike trails, but most of these are for weekend recreational riders and do not reliably connect to areas where people work. They often don't reliably connect to anything. The city streets are a scrum against scooters and dangerous drivers without bike lanes or reliable law enforcement and busses are not equipped to carry bicycles. These drawbacks keep many potential riders from choosing the bicycle for commuting. Simply, the plan is... there is no plan.

Taiwan's government really needs to take a coordinated and centralized approach to making cycling a positive alternative to motorized vehicles. I don't think this can be achieved on just the local level as political rivalries and special interests often influence the outcome of urban planning projects. Projects like bike paths and lanes are, more often than not, the victims of election year promises and not very well thought through but look nice on the campaign trail and in a stump speech. A long term, integrated transportation plan that realistically incorporates cycling into the project would be a major improvement for a more sustainable future and I hope the new U.S. policy can spark Taiwan's politicians to make the same paradigm shift.

Taiwan has the potential, but is there a will?

We're on an island after all.

Giant SCR Review

Giant SCR First Look:

Michael Cannon gives his excellent and balanced review of the Giant SCR road bike as his current Taiwan Bike.

"Overall, the Giant SCR is a great value for a road bike. It’s somewhat lightweight at 9.4 kg, has a stiff rear triangle, has very smooth working Sora shifters and deraillers and rides comfortably on Taiwan county roads.

Gearing wise, I’m very surprised at how well I’m adapting to the compact double 50/34 in front with an 8-gear 12-26 in back. I’ve been used to spinning a 48/38/26 front and 10-31 back for the past year.

For now, I’d prefer a rear 11-27 and later, a 10-26 when back in shape. That rear cassette change would make going even faster and climbing easier.

In the flats, between the gearing changes and bike stiffness, my casual riding pace and in spite of not being in riding shape, is 4 kph faster. I’m finally realizing how much pedaling energy my Giant LTD shocks have soaked up. On hill climbs, the SCR is grinding up than spinning, but I’m at the same pace and more energetic at the top."

Read the full review here.