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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Pedal Pumpers Push Pedestrians: A Clash of Cultures in a Conflicted Kingdom

Religious Zealots in Traffic
The Taipei Times ran an editorial from the Taipei based reporter, James Baron, who brings into focus some of the problems Taipei is facing with its overlapping bicycle policies.

Baron writes: 
The effort to turn Taipei into a cycle city has borne fruit. 
The Guardian ran a piece called “Return of the Bicycle Kingdom? How pavement cycling is transforming Taipei” on Tuesday last week that focuses on the initiatives that have shot bicycle usage figures for the city way past those of New York and London. The author of the article, Nick Mead, who was in town for this year’s Velo-city Global Conference, heaped deserved praise on the YouBike system and the riverside cycling paths. 
He also referenced a threefold increase in cycle lanes within three years, though the caveat that this extra space would be on the sidewalk and, thus, taken from pedestrians was telling. Another interesting figure was the 386.24km of sidewalk that is now apparently open in its entirety to cyclists.
I also wrote some about this article Here and Here. But I don't get up to Taipei enough to see the daily interaction between bicycles, motor vehicles and pedestrians. The Guardian article seemed a bit fanciful, and not the Taipei I have encountered. But I gave the writer the benefit of the doubt is writing honestly about his experiences. I also imagined that maybe it is worse off where he hails from, making Taipei look like a city park. 

One paragraph that struck me about the article was this gem:

“We want to be a cycle-friendly city, but we’re not trying to be like Amsterdam or Copenhagen,” Anne Chung, transport commissioner for Taipei, tells me on the sidelines of the VeloCity global cycling conference, which is taking place in Asia for the first time. “There are too many scooters and motorbikes at the moment and it is too dangerous to ride on the road with them, so the pavement is safer for cyclists. We want people to make cycling part of their lives and be able to combine cycling with the metro and buses for the ‘last mile’ of their journeys. We want to be able to tell car and motorbike users that there is a smarter way to get around.”
But upon further investigation Baron uncovered a different story. This struck me as a bit strange, considering the occasions public officials have sought to tour the Netherlands and Copenhagen looking for inspiration for Taiwan's future development.

Possibly, one of the biggest problems may be in how the central and local governments have not been able to decide where cycling belongs. It becomes and ideological problem. Digging way back in the TiC archives I found this piece that really captures the root of the problem.

"Although the MOTC is moving to take the lead for national biking policy, projects to develop local bike paths continue to be financed by the Ministry of the Interior’s Construction and Planning Agency (CPA) and the Cabinet-level Sports Affairs Council (SAC). According to a construction plan by the SAC, a budget of NT$4 billion (US$125 million) will be devoted to the development of an integrated network of biking paths around Taiwan from 2009 to 2012, continuing similar efforts started by the council in the early 2000s for sport and recreational purposes." 
You can see by the alphabet soup above, how bureaucratic divisions, budget rivalries and lack of cross-agency communication can impede the process of integrating cycling into the transportation grid. To expand on the paragraph above, it is obvious that cycling in Taiwanese officialdom is neither transportation nor a sport.
The bicycle has no place to go, because bureaucrats have not been able to envision where to put it. Many see the bicycle as a piece of leisure sporting equipment-- a cash generating toy-- that is fun for non-cyclists to play with on weekend jaunts past cafes, kitsch markets, souvenir shops, and restaurants. Others see the bicycle as transportation and integral to reducing congestion in the cities. 

By relegating the bicycle to the sidewalk, the city is sending the message that the bicycle is not regarded as transportation.This is a policy and an outlook that needs to be reversed for Taipei and other cities to really begin making progress. They need to provide road space for bikes and treat the bicycle as an important cog in the transportation grid rather than a mere toy.      


  1. At the end of the day, there is plenty of space to accommodate pedestrian, bicycle and motor vehicle infrastructure in Taipei.

    None of them mix well. Pedestrianized areas cannot be thoroughfare for bicycles, bicycle routes cannot be thoroughfare for motorized vehicles. Filtering and segregation of modes is of utmost importance.

    It's also clear from the before/after shot in that article that they have completely ignored the best practice from Europe (bike lanes must run on the pedestrian side of bus stops to prevent conflict, you can see commuters just hanging out in the bike lane naturally).

    In trying to "do it our way" they're simply saying that they will reinvent the wheel by making it a square, rather than following the best practice that has already been tested over decades.

    But in closing, seeing those picture of Taipei and comparing them to where I live in rural Tainan, I would feel safe to let my kids wander around on the sidewalk on their own.

  2. I am somewhat torn on this subject.

    On the one hand I would love to see some mad entrepreneur create an alternative infrastructure of tubes suspended tens of meters above the city for the use of bicycles and roller skates. The tubes could have transparent sides so riders could see where they were as well as dedicated signage as to locations and route designations similar to the road network. Access ramps could have toll gates and micro versions of the electromagnetic catapults used on U.S. aircraft carriers to propel skaters and cyclists up the ramps to the horizontal sections.

    Then again I'd like to saddle up on my very own Pteranodon.

    But this is reality, and I make do with 150cc "Grand King" motorbike. And the reality is surely that for the majority of people in Taipei and elsewhere, bicycles are toys (and often very expensive ones) rather than a serious means of transportation. And so it is hard to see why should the Taipei city government spend vast sums of taxpayer's money altering public infrastructure for the benefit of a relatively well-off minority who already have alternatives available to them.

  3. It is exactly this type of wildly obtuse viewpoint that keeps Taiwan spinning its wheels on integrating the bicycle into the urban grid.