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Friday, June 10, 2011

Locating Taiwan's Cycling Center

There have been a few articles circulating lately focusing on Taiwan's bicycle infrastructure and the center of Taiwan's cycling culture.

Mark Caltonhill has a wonderful piece on the great strides Kaohsiung has taken in recent years to transform the city from one of Taiwan's least livable cities into one of Taiwan's most progressive in embracing alternative forms of transportation. As I write this I can't help but feel a sad bit of irony that the term, "alternative transportation" includes trains, bicycles and, sadly-- foot traffic.

“In order to make cycling more convenient and safer for citizens, bike paths are constructed as part of the sidewalk, so as to avoid bikes having to compete for road space with cars and motorbikes,” Kent T. Wang, director-general of Kaohsiung’s Department of Transport, said by e-mail.

Furthermore, to encourage cyclists to use the paths, he stressed that “they are built in coordination with road construction projects and in accordance with the same principles of signage, signaling and road marking.”

This will be good news to many cyclists visiting Kaohsiung from other cities—around the world and not just in Taiwan—who often feel themselves to be second-class road users. Taipei’s bike paths, for example, have few signs directing cyclists to destinations and no distance indicators other than those relating to the section of path being used.

Caltonhill's observations are supported by my friend and fellow rider, Michael Cannon from

In a related article from Cycling Mobility Magazine via Bike Biz, Taiwan's recent investment in infrastructure projects is featured as the cover story. The article states:

For the piece Reid interviewed the ex-director general of Taipei City Transport (who cycles to work) and King Liu, president and founder of Giant. Bike maker Giant invests in cycle infrastructure and promotion projects in Taiwan, as does Merida. The companies invest in order to create more domestic customers.

King Liu started Giant - now the world's biggest maker of quality bikes - in 1972 after his fish-farm was destroyed by a typhoon. He has a customer-creation allegory: "It is more important to grow the fishes than to catch the fish."

Although private enterprise can help support the bicycle infrastructure, Giant's dominance in the production, retail and policy ends of the business, a more apt analogy for their use of using public bicycle infrastructure to generate profits may be more like, "shooting fish in a barrel."

The disparity between the Kaohsiung approach and Liu's approach, which has been adopted by Taipei, (Liu is a senior advisor to ROC President Ma Ying-jiu) hinges on their motivations. As Benjamin Fox recently pointed out at The City Fix, Kaohsiung is willing to take a financial loss to transform the way its citizens live in the city.
Recent progress aside, Kaohsiung faces several financial challenges. The city’s MRT system is steadily losing money and will lean heavily on government subsidies for the foreseeable future. Kaohsiung’s C-Bike program also lost NT $500,000 (US $16,892) a month in 2009 and statistics indicate that rentals are used primarily for leisure rather than a viable transportation alternative for commuters. Despite Kaohsiung’s financial concerns, the city is pressing ahead with public transportation expansion.
Liu's vision, and the vision he is pitching to the government, is one in which the prime motivation is corporate profit. While both methods have their strengths and liabilities, Liu's approach puts the cycling public at the mercy of corporate cycling and what goods and services corporations would like cyclists to purchase. Furthermore, Liu's vision pushes cyclists out toward managed "cycling reservations", while Kaohsiung looks to embrace cycling in the city.

Despite the polar differences between Taiwan's northern and southern metropoles and Kaohsiung's gradual increase in ridership, a recent survey finds that 63% of Hsinchu County residents list cycling as their favorite pastime.

Wu Che-wei, Office of Transportation and Tourism chief, said Hsinchu covers an extensive area, with many county roads and farm paths boasting stunning scenery. Although most are not exclusively for use by bicycles, they are quite suitable for a half or full-day tours.

Bicycle trails extend to every town and city in the area, and there is every sort of themed trip imaginable on the list as well. These include urban trips winding through Hsinchu and Zhudong, as well as routes taking the rider along the seacoast, a path along the Touqian Creek, and a ride around the Baoer Reservoir. Another trip showcases the yesteryear flavor of Hukou Old Street. And naturally, there is no shortage of routes that wind through the beautiful farmlands of the county.

This statistic might look surprising at first, especially with Taichung being the center of Taiwan's bicycle production, and without the additional tax revenue of the special municipalities (Taipei, Kaohsiung and Taichung), the difference may simply be that Hsinchu County, with its lower population density, can better manage traffic and create a safe cycling atmosphere, which is probably the most important factor in enticing people to exchange petrol power to pedal power.

Even as Taiwan struggles with the debate on how to invest in its cycling infrastructure, at least the issue is on the table and most local governments are thinking about how to integrate the bicycle into their collective futures whether for recreational or utilitarian purposes.


Please take some time to fill out this cycling survey which is being conducted by National Chung Kang University's Institute of International Management. Survey