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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Miles To Nowhere: Urban Bike Lanes Trouble Bicycle Kingdom


Despite Taiwan's recent marketing bid to rebrand the island nation as the "Bicycle Kingdom", the slogan fails to ring true to the millions of residents who dwell in Taiwan's urban centers. Although thousands of kilometers have been designated for bicycle traffic, there is little offered for the urban commuter. 

As I detailed in another recent post, citizens and politicians have begun questioning the government's current strategy of constructing superficial infrastructure without taking a detailed look at the actual problems faced by Taiwan's urban cyclist. The Dunhua Rd. bike lanes, once a stump favorite of Taipei Mayor Hou Long-bin, have become a symbol of short sighted, impractical and wasteful spending on bike lanes to serve short term political ends. 

Now the Apple Daily has served up a wonderful piece focusing on Taichung's own failed system of urban bike lanes. I was recently visiting my in-laws who have seen their sidewalk torn up all summer with the installation of new bike lanes that will be covered in tiles. Perfect... for something other than bicycles. I am sure the tile contractor is not complaining. 

The report skewers the Taichung City government for supplying each township with a budget for the bike paths, yet they fail to serve a united purpose and often seem incongruous, dangerous and impractical. The report cites the incongruous use of colors to designate bike paths with some areas using green, others red or yellow. The paths are both on and off sidewalks and, much like Dunhua Rd., they are often filled with scooters, automobiles and parked vehicles. 

Despite the government's lofty claims for creating a "two horse culture", with horseback riding and cycling being the two horses, it appears Taiwan's 10,000 registered club riders are best advised to steer clear of these bike paths and are better off taking less busy roads with due caution. The bike paths are seen as serving no public function. 



The Taipei Times reports that suddenly, in the wake of recent criticism over its failing public bike rental policy, the program has sprouted wings. 

Xinyi District’s (信義) public rental bike system has seen a rapid increase in membership numbers this month as well as a 30 percent increase in usage rate, after the introduction of a discount scheme that involves 30 minutes of free time, according to the Taipei City Government’s Bureau of Transportation.

Something just doesn't sit right with me over these numbers. It seems a quick reversal of fortune considering summer is the least comfortable time to start riding bicycles. As an enthusiast and regular rider, I have seen my riding decrease due to Taiwan's rainy summer weather. Taipei is wetter than Taichung, so I can't help but wonder what is up with these numbers and if an independent survey would achieve the same results without a stake in the outcome. Just sayin'.



Be sure to check out Michael's photo essay on his recent Taiwan East Coast rides