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Saturday, July 9, 2011

An Analysis Of Taiwan's Cycling Infrastructure

A couple weeks ago Taiwan was visited by Jack Becker, a Canadian cycling advocate and director of the 2012 Velo-Cities conference. Mr. Becker presented a paper relating to creating lasting and meaningful infrastructure for cycling. He spent five days in Taiwan feted by local political actors looking for an evaluation of their efforts to transform Taiwan into a "bicycle island".

Becker walked away with a very clear impression: Taiwan can not foster a bicycle friendly environment until action is taken to regularly and evenly enforce traffic laws and to take cycling seriously enough to provide separate space for riders to survive amid chaotic traffic conditions.

Please read his brief evaluation HERE and I would encourage readers to leave a comment.

I think Becker makes some great points about Taiwan's softball approach to cycling infrastructure.

I call it a "softball" approach because rather than addressing real problems with our cycling infrastructure the central and local governments either look for solutions in search of their problems, or initiate a half-baked "solution" that looks good when framed by bullet points in a Power Point presentation, but lack any reasonable followthrough.

Two examples might be the kilometers of leisure trails being constructed that start at and lead to nowhere. In cases like these the proposition is to promote tourism, where there was no real need before (especially now that Chinese tourism has dropped 30% in the past year).

A second example might be the "Bike Trains". They look great on paper and the government can proudly announce an increasing number of these trains. What a bike train means is that a rider may be allowed to bring their bike into a train car, which will be shared with other, non cycling, passengers. There are no racks, there are no hooks or nets or any special devices to make carrying a bike easier. One simply must hold their bike as the car fills with passengers who are annoyed that they have to rest their bags of fruit on your handlebars or get chain grease on their clothes. Michel Turton reported to me that his train car was so full last weekend that one rider had to pass his bike over the heads of passengers packed seven or eight deep into the car. This is hardly a viable solution to encourage riders to use the railway system.

These are just a couple examples, but for a program that has had so much fanfare, there is sure a lack of results in many key areas the government should be focusing on.


  1. Traffic isn't the issue -- that's a foreigner's perspective, someone who doesn't understand how safe it is, really. The real issues are the one's you've identified.

  2. Really? Traffic safety and enforcement of traffic regulations is not an issue?? I guess I haven't yet seen the part of Taiwan you ride in! :)

    Maybe I am thinking too much like a foreigner, because traffic and traffic safety was certainly an issue for me when deciding when and where to ride.

    From what I see, drivers knocking down bicycle and scooter riders is considered far too commonplace to actually merit any real attention from anybody, including police.

  3. I agree with John. Enforcement of traffic regulations is a serious issue affecting bicycle safety. Even the bike lanes we have in Taichung aren't safe to use because they are commonly filled with scooters, parked motor vehicles and pedestrians.

    I would like to see a far more comprehensive solution to our traffic sitution, including bicycles -- something that will be the subject of a series of blog posts I will begin later this week or during the weekend.

  4. Do any of you belong to a local cycling advocacy organization? There's great commentary here, but some municipal officials and staff appreciate well articulated practical suggestions (with technical details) how to improve the present situation. Right down to the width of lanes, how to improve certain intersections, which streets should have a separated bike lane, any bike counter equipment on the road. Yes, boring technical details but all contribute over time for improvements.

    Becker has had considerable patience to sit through hours of committee meetings and muncipal public counicl meetings on such details. He did it for Toronto and then a volunteer for several years. Which group is actively working in this manner in some major centres of Taiwan?

    Cycling advocacy is long hard work but building a relationship with municipal officials consists of this groundwork.

  5. There are few bicycle advocacy organizations in Taiwan. Moreover, the government does not frequently consult with these groups regarding bicycle infrastructure. Instead they have chosen the bypass the public and seek guidance from bicycle manufacturers. Giant's King Liu is a special advisor to the president to handle bicycle related issues. It is all very paternalistic. Many of the bicycle organizations are focused on organized rides and not policy.

    Basically, nobody is asking and nobody is listening.

  6. Seems like one of the difficulties here is that people who think they are discussing the same subject are actually talking about two very different subjects.

    If the subject is "biking in Taiwan", it all depends on exactly what you are talking about.

    If you mean weekend group rides along the scenic rural highways, Italian bicycles, spandex, toe-clips, B&Bs, etc., then yes, I can see that safety may not be the key issue. And that's great, I admire people who have the time, money and energy to do that.

    But then the kind of bicycling you are talking about is basically a lesuire-time pursuit of urban, white-collar professionals-- not bicycling as an alternate form of transportation for all classes, which is what I assume Mr. Becker's is advocating (after reading The Third Wave Cycling Blog).

    So I guess in order to have a meaningful discussion on the subject of Cycling Infrastructure, you'd first have to define what kind of cycling you are talking about.

    From what I have seen, cycling as an alternative form of transportantion in Taiwan is really only considered appropriate for old (or poor) people, or for students from working-class families.

    It is something that the professionals who use GPS to log their weekend bicycles rides would not be caught dead doing Monday to Friday.

  7. I think there are lots of ways to see cycling infrastructure. For the most part, road cyclists are going to be on the roads or in the mountains anyways. I think what we are discussing here is as an alternative to motorized transportation. How to connect cycling to the transportation grid... and not the leisure grid. I always have mixed feelings when I take a bike trail (and I use them on occasion). I am happy to see so many people out on the weekends who chose cycling as a way to spend their time. I always hope they will develop more than a casual interest and make the bicycle less of a toy and more of a part of their lives. On the other hand, it is sad to see so much investment in trails that sit nearly vacant five days a week while the weekend riders are sitting in their cars and offices. There has been very little done to bring cycling into the city... to connect these two spheres of leisure and utility cycling.

    I see this from several angles as I am a weekend sport rider, and a weekday commuter. I treasure my weekend rides and loath any type of city riding. It is so frustrating to have to fight with vehicles and then when you get to a location have no place to safely put your bike. There are no busses equipped to handle bikes... there are few bike racks. There is currently no space in the city. I have been told by a few establishments to leave my bike outside or far away from the building... to leave it with the scooters. There is probably also a level of prestige that goes with the carbon bike on weekends. It can be a status symbol like the Benz. Biking to work does not have that same Top Gun appeal.

    I would say the first investment would be to create urban bicycle space before anything else. I think of Seattle's Burke-Gillman Trail as a great example of a MUT. Recreational users can enjoy it. Students use it. Urban commuters use it. Although Taiwan is humid, Seattle is wet and yet people still make the space for bikes.

  8. John, I'm not sure where one is given the impression that Becker is advocating for recreational cyclists. He is advocating heavily on a broader scale, cycling for transportation where recreational cycling and cycling tourism is only a subset of that type of niche activity.

    He wrote articles in that blog on bike to work week, bike trains, multi-modal transportation, streetcars, etc. He has a bio..under "About". Above at top of blog main page is his Presentations, etc.

    I'm the blogmaster for Third Wave Cycling.

  9. Excuse my a hurry.

  10. This is the internet. Normal rules of grammar are in a state of perpetual suspension. I think it has something to do with the quantum mechanics of all those tubes.