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Thursday, February 4, 2016

We Aren't Worthy: Taipei Plays Host to Velo-city Global


Between Feb 27th and March 1st Taipei will play host to the worldwide Velo-city conference; a conference designed by the European Cyclists' Federation to promote the integration of the bicycle into the modern city infrastructure. 

According to the ECF, the purpose is to:

  • Raise the status of cycling and to promote recognition of the benefits of cycling for both individuals and society as a whole.
  • Encourage consideration of cyclists’ needs in Europe in all aspects of transport planning and management, environment, safety and health, and promote cycle-friendly conditions throughout Europe.
  • Support member groups on matters of national and international importance relating to the aims of the ECF.
  • Undertake research on matters relating to cycling, transportation, environment and safety.
  • Enhance the information and advice available to member groups and thus assist in their activities nationally and internationally.
  • Promote the exchange of information and expertise between member organisations.
  • Provide information and expertise in order to raise the awareness of specific groups: international bodies and institutions, politicians, planners, manufacturers/trade groups, bicycle holiday agents/tourism authorities, environmental and transport groups with regard to cycling and its benefits and needs

Of course, the ECF is no longer contained to just Europe as it has become a global proponent of lobby for progressive bicycle policy. 

Then why choose Taiwan? 

On the one hand, I see this as an incredibly welcome and opportune time to hold Velo-city in Taiwan. There is a continued interest in bicycles on all levels from riders, private enterprise and policymakers. In the face of an unprecedented turnover in government over the past two years in the executive, legislative and municipalities largely in favor of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), along with the inception and emergence of a more progressive New Power Party, (NPP) it may not be business as usual in terms of bicycle infrastructure development, which has overwhelmingly favored superfluous recreation over transportation and utility. These projects increase the visibility of cycling but do precious little to reduce the reliance on motorized transportation and merely increase their carbon footprint by spreading slick lanes asphalt in an attempt to shift people from the swimming pools and basketball courts to the bike lanes. Both parties made inroads promoting Taiwan centered policies, especially the NPP, which supports policies promoting sustainability and energy independence.

There has been some positive increase in ridership of the various metropolitan public bicycle programs, but from this rider's perspective, most of the riders appear to be students who would be using mass transportation anyway as opposed to a personal motor vehicle. 

I am less optimistic when I read how this event is being imagined locally: 

The Taipei Times reports: 
Taipei Deputy Mayor Chou Li-fang (周麗芳) said.
The event is to feature eight select bicycle trails, each having a different theme, including hot springs, waterfront parks, culture, historic buildings and art, Chou said. 
She said that Taipei is to join the list of previous host cities, such as London, Copenhagen, Milan, Italy and Vienna, Austria, which would boost the city’s international profile. 
Chou said that Taipei made strenuous efforts to work with the central government and the private sector to secure its 2013 bid to host the event. 
By winning the bid, it justified Taiwan’s status as a “bicycle kingdom,” Taipei’s efforts to promote cycling and its bicycle trails, as well as Taipei’s status as an international city.
We often see Taiwan so hungry for international validation, citizens and leaders are tone deaf to the criticism or suggestions provided by international experts. 

The purpose of this event and the mission of the ECF is not to justify a city's or a nation's status as a success in integrating the bicycle into the city infrastructure or to boost a city's profile for tourism. The purpose is to exchange information, learn and improve upon the status quo. 

Taiwan still faces two major problems that threaten the future development of building a "bicycle kingdom". 

The first is the lack of cycling infrastructure in the cities and areas where people actually live and work. The ability to substitute the car or scooter for the bicycle in a viable manner between home and the office is severely limited by the lack of a comprehensive and connected system of safe bicycle corridors throughout the city, the lack of safe and viable bicycle storage facilities, the lack of support for commuting cyclists in businesses and the lack of space given to the bicycle. 

The second major problem is with the pernicious air pollution that regularly chokes our cities and drives the PM2.5 air pollution index into the danger zone. I have personally lost several cycling days this year due to unhealthy levels of pollution. I didn't have an asthma problem before cycling in Taiwan. The PM2.5 index used in Taiwan has been adjusted to Taiwan's own index, which shifts the entire spectrum of air quality rightward so that levels that would be deemed unhealthy in most countries, will still be deemed healthy or moderate by Taiwan's standards. Tackling the problem of air quality will be paramount to securing a future that is safe for cycling in Taiwan. 

My hope is that the foreign experts will find time to freely roam Taiwan by bicycle and provide our politicians and city planners with harsh critical and constructive feedback on how we can implement solutions. We don't need any more gland handing

Taiwan is not ready to feel it has ascended to the pinnacle of bicycle transportation and political leaders need to admit that we have a long way to go to make the changes needed to stand along side Copenhagen and Vancouver as equals in infrastructure development. But will anybody listen? 


  1. The ECF have a major challenge getting cities interested in hosting velo-city. There's internal politics about this with the host city. Host city surprisingly will find themselves footing more of the bill than they realize.

    So Taipei fell for this...easily. Because as you say: "We often see Taiwan so hungry for international validation, citizens and leaders are tone deaf to the criticism or suggestions provided by international experts. "

    Hope the pollution levels will be dealt with there..important. No.1 priority.

  2. Jean,

    Thanks for your insightful comment. That is so true. It is like the Olympics, where the cost is greater than the reward.

    Here, it is being used to boost Taiwan's credentials for the tourism economy; a sector the prior administration was very keen on expanding at the expense of about everything else. The pollution will kill off interest if it doesn't kill us all first. We are having another high pollution day, today. :(