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Monday, November 21, 2011

Lack Of Bike Infrastructure Builds Frustration: China Post Commentary

In today's China Post, Ian Gilchrist calls out Taipei for the city's failure to integrate cycling into the transportation grid.

Gilchrist adroitly spots some of the problems in this section of his commentary:

Politicians can point with some pride to the riverside rides which work well on weekends, but if a survey could be carried out for weekday commuting, they would almost certainly be deemed greatly under-used. And they're still far from being a sanctuary. While riding on a riverside cyclepath I was hit by a woman riding a motor-scooter who then screamed that it was my fault. The attending police officer was rather non-committal.
This blog has not been shy of highlighting many of the problems Gilchrist describes. What it really boils down to are the politics and economics of Taiwan's bicycle infrastructure.

For cities like Taipei and Taichung, the emphasis of bicycle infrastructure (or the lack thereof) is purely a profit motivated initiative. Government funds are being spent to ensure a select number of businesses can profit from bicycle infrastructure. This includes connected contractors, retailers and service providers. If bicycles were used freely around the city it would be harder to corral cyclists and direct them to those who will profit most from their presence. Leisure bike trails which have become so popular in Taipei, Taichung and Miaoli can be constructed to control and direct flows of customers to political patrons.

Some very powerful interests see more profit in this model than one that encourages making every street into a bike trail. Ever wonder why Taiwan's big bike retailers do not promote steel commuting bikes? They are not as profitable as aluminum or carbon fiber leisure and racing bikes.

The politicians are simply feeding their backers and giving the public a token symbol of "progress".

The other side of Gilchrist's frustration is that there is no political will to transform Taiwan's roadways into shared spaces for cars, scooters, bikes and pedestrians. This is not impossible, but it would take a commitment from both the central and local governments to carry out.

The cynic in me says Taiwanese drivers will not change. Then I remember when the law went into effect to mandate all scooter and motorcycle riders wear helmets. The law was first met with resistance as regular enforcement was brought to bear against violators. I recall seeing an old man with a cooking pot on his head in an attempt to both comply with... and circumvent the law. Helmet theft was rampant. You couldn't leave your helmet unattended outside without the risk of having it stolen by a rider in a pinch. Now, everyone (at least in the cities) rides with a certified helmet.

The same could be done for traffic. But it takes the political will to make it happen. So far, of the major cities in Taiwan, only the southern city of Kaohsiung has started taking the difficult steps toward crafting shared roadways. Of course, the police need to complete their transformation from a mediation force to a full police force committed to the rule of law.

Taiwan's road to becoming a bicycle paradise will be long and hard, but with a commitment to transforming Taiwan into a real bicycle island, it is not impossible. What the public doesn't need are more tourist trails that go nowhere.


In Other News: Frontier Sports put together this great video from the Taiwan Cup.

Sun Moon Lake Tour

Here is a fine report from a couple of teachers who set out from Taichung to explore Puli and Sun Moon Lake by bike. The full report and several other picture and travel posts can be found HERE at the Taiwhat blog.
In other, slightly less nerdy, news… I have just returned from a WONDERFUL weekend bike trip to Sun Moon Lake! Another teacher, Amanda, and I hit the road Saturday morning around 10. We would have departed earlier, but a week of rain in Taichung had made us a bit worried that maybe this weekend wouldn’t be the best for a bike trip; so, instead of renting Amanda’s bike Friday night we waited until Saturday morning to judge the weather and when we deemed it acceptable (in fact, pretty ideal) riding weather we had to wait for the Giant store to open at 10 so we could get her a bike and be on our way.