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Friday, November 16, 2012

The Tarnish of Traffic


 These are the high holy days of Taiwanese cycling with Taichung Bike Week, Maxxis KOM Wuling Ride, The International Bike Festival and the Tour of Formosa, an annual cycling event for hearing impaired competitive cyclists.

Taiwan's Tourism Bureau has stepped in to cover much of the sponsorship and to craft a unified narrative of Taiwan as a cycling paradise.

Last week's Tour of Formosa bore witness to an event that highlights why cycling in Taiwan will never be wholly embraced internationally as anything other than a production and logistics center-- Taiwan's notoriously dangerous traffic culture.

During one leg of the Tour of Formosa on one of the most dangerous stretches of highway in the country, the notorious Suhua Highway, a tour bus loaded with Chinese tourists tried to intimidate and overtake the group of cyclists.

According to the report published by TVBS, the driver became angry that he had been caught behind the peloton and angrily laid on his horn. When nobody reacted, he swerved across the double yellow lines into the oncoming lane and tried to push past the riders and their support and safety vehicles.

When the driver was eventually stopped by the police, he just unleashed an stream of abuse at the officers and the issue was resolved.

Even when an event like this happens in a high profile event such as the Tour of Taiwan, it seems oddly routine and almost tame by the standard most regular riders in Taiwan are accustomed to. Taiwan's dangerously aggressive driving culture and the lack of political will to do much about it will continue to leave visitors with little but faint praise for Taiwan as an Asian cycling leader.

Visitors to Taiwan almost unanimously list the nation's driving culture as the overriding negative caveat for any trip.

The Tourism bureau only wants to hear about the mountains, but the traffic in the cities are the blight that cast the long shadows over any marketing plan. It seems that if the government spent as much time and money making the cities safe to ride as they do in keeping cyclists safely out of the cities, some real progress might be made on the issue.