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Monday, October 22, 2012

Action Speaks Louder Than Words: Kaohsiung's Cycling To Success Away From The Spotlight


This past weekend I was unable to ride. I had other commitments that took me to Taiwan's southern metropolis in the port city of Kaohsiung.

Despite being off the bike, I used part of my trip to look deeper into Kaohsiung's bicycle culture, which has received international recognition outside the usual channels of CNN-Pay-For-Play articles.

I find it surprising that almost every internationally syndicated article of Taiwanese cycling fails to mention Kaohsiung while piling the plaudits on Taipei's leisure bike trails and Sun Moon Lake.

It may be that in Taiwan's politico-economic climate, the leadership in Kaohsiung and Taipei remain poles apart in their vision of Taiwan as a center or a periphery, and therefore Kaohsiung will not receive any government help in raising her profile as a model for other cities in Taiwan or around the world for promoting the bicycle as a form of urban transport.

 Kaohsiung is a very different city than any other in Taiwan. It has wide boulevards and less traffic. The  slow lane is large enough for scooters and bikes, while the crosswalks separate cyclists from pedestrians.

I saw many casual riders out enjoying the day.

Although Kaohsiung is not perfect, I thought riders had plenty of options for roads and rides within the city. There were regular bike racks located around town and near gathering places for city residents. I particularly enjoyed seeing bikes parked near Kaohsiung's thriving cafe scene. Kaohsiung cafes seem to be filled with retirees who can barely hear each other as they shout in lively banter over the din. A very different vibe. It feels a bit like Tainan's food culture... in a cafe.

What really stood out were the bike rental stations located at various hubs around the city. I was surprised to see how many green and white rental bikes could be seen floating about the city.

Residents were actually using these bikes beyond simple recreation.

I saw numerous people approach the bike station, rent a bike, and take off into the city. It wasn't just at purely tourist oriented areas, but all over.

The bike rental program in Kaohsiung has actually provided a viable way to cleanly navigate the city.

The biggest problem I see is the lack of helmets, which increases the risk of serious injury... even on a slow city bike.

I have to admit, seeing all those bikes rented out made me feel the excitement of possibility.

Taipei and Taichung still have a long way to go to better organize the city infrastructure to accommodate the bicycle.

Let's hope other cities in Taiwan look to Kaohsiung for leadership in integrating the bike into our daily lives.


 Be sure to check out another one of Michael Turton's Northern Cross Island bike trips . Like a pilgrimage to Mecca, Taiwan riders must do this journey with michael at least once in their lives.