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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Taiwan's Future In Cycles: China Post Calls For Government To Get Serious About Cycling

Gaomei Wetlands

Today's China Post has done a brave and commendable job in using its editorial page to focus on some of the core issues at stake in the development of Taiwan's bicycle policy. 

I use the word "brave" because it certainly can not be easy for a major publication to run against the grain of the government's steady flow of cheerleading over its own cycling policies that emphasize keeping the bicycle exiled to the Peach Blossom Spring of leisure and recreation. It is also brave of the editorial staff to question these policies that are tailor made to most benefit the bottom lines of some of Taiwan's largest companies. 
If you believe what the government says, this has been a brilliant year for cycling in Taiwan. Sun Moon Lake's biking path “won” some publicity on the CNN GO travel website, and there was another successful Tour de Taiwan. More bikes and locations were added to Taipei's YouBike rental system, and the Taipei Cycle trade show was just as big as ever. But these achievements — just like the doping scandal — are distractions. If our country is to take cycling up a gear from just a leisure-time activity to an integral part of our culture, we need to give serious thought about making commuting by bike safe, convenient and most of all popular.
The China Post rightly identifies that the future of Taiwan as a cycling success story will, at least in the short term, be invisible on the positive side of the balance sheet. It will require some tough choices, long term strategies, and some serious investment without a corporate sponsor. 
Let's face the biggest problem straight off the bat — the central and local governments like cycling because of cash and self-promotion.
The China Post is right on the money. Cycling infrastructure projects provide plenty of political capital for politicians who are eager to ride on the coattails of cycling's popularity while handing out inflated government contracts to other local and regional powers. For these politicians the beauty of these leisure projects is that they do not actually have to upset any apple carts.

If Taiwan's central and local governments actually took cycling's integration into the transportation grid seriously, it would involve deeper, result oriented investment in reorganizing the modern Taiwanese city and risk having to make some unpopular choices that might alienate some of the political actors that enjoy the fruits of the current state of roadway chaos. What I am coyly implying is that there is a lot of money and power at stake in the enterprise of routing of people through the urban landscape. Cycling decentralizes a lot of the transportation infrastructure that has already been negotiated. Embracing urban cycling would provide some opportunities, but it would also upset a lot of apple carts.
Again the constant feeling that local governments are far too focused on the meager profits of tourism and recreation is present here. Indeed, every level of government has failed to truly capitalize on the popularity of riding.
The disparity between Taiwan's leisure and utility cycling was made embarrassingly clear in the faint praise Taiwan's cycling investment received from Jack Becker, a Canadian bicycle advocate who was brought to Taiwan to, presumably, be feted into writing a gushing assessment of some cherry picked selections of the northern bike trail network. Becker rightly ignored the pressures of patronage to write a bit of reality for the government to think about. 

Becker noted:
While the Mayor is a former cycling racer, his past enthusiasm for cycling has not been reflected in cycling infrastructure on the street. The city is very proud of its 17 kilometres bike path along the seashore. The bike path attracts recreational cyclists from cities two and three hours away. They rent a motor coach and come in droves. This very expensive bike path winds its way on stilts over wetlands and along sand dunes. On streets, there are very few separated lanes that could be mistaken for bike lanes, since droves of motorcyclists ride in these lanes.
The China Post echoes this sentiment and what others, including myself, have been saying for a very long time. 
The biggest obstacle is getting bike paths constructed to make commuting safe. Dedicated bicycle lanes are not and will never be sufficient, given the local driving habits and amount of traffic. Taipei's YouBike system is admirable but is not built for commuting and the capital needs a systematic overhaul of its roadways and road rules. Unfortunately other attempts at cycling paths are not encouraging, like ones in which motorists unflinchingly dive in and out of the lane and others with uncomfortable, tiled surfaces.
If Taiwan is to realize its self-declared title as a "Bicycle Paradise", it will take long-term investment that will probably not show dividends until an election cycle far beyond the current political horizon. The government will have to resist playing to large corporate interests and their advisors. 

Not every government project needs to serve a partner in business. Some projects should just be completed to serve the citizen. 

I commend the China Post for their willingness to advocate a balanced investment in Taiwanese cycling. 

Read the entire editorial HERE

The View from Taiwan adds to the discussion HERE

EVENT INVITE: Help Me Celebrate My Birthday Over Alishan (Nov. 24-25)

Seven Axiom SL, Alishan in Taiwan

This November I'll be celebrating another middle age birthday on the bike and I'd like to put the call out to invite my friends and TiC readers to join me in a two day ride over Alishan

Instead of doing the ride in a 250km 4000m single day effort, we hope to make this a more manageable, friendly ride by breaking it up into two days. Two days leaves time for a little beer somewhere along the route. 

This ride should be suitable for most regular riders. The route is incredible and unforgettable.  It is challenging, but not devastating. 

Info: Nov 24-25th, Alishan. First day from Taichung to Tsaoling on the 149, then second day leave early and head up to Fenchihu on the 169 or 149. Reaching Fenchihu in the early afternoon, we'll take the 159A out of Shijhuo, one of Taiwan's loveliest roads, down to Chiayi city and catch the train or ride back home. Come one, come all!