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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

228 Pole to Pole with Mayor Ko and More

It has been a busy week for cycling in Taiwan. With a three-day weekend last week and the Velo-cities Global conference leading up to the Taipei Cycle trade show, a lot of cyclists have been hitting the roads for a little taste of Taiwan's cyclescape. 

The charge was led by Taipei's incredible mayor, Ko Wen-je. Ko was noted as a commuting cyclist from his time before politics as a surgeon and director at the NTU Hospital in Taipei. When Ko was elected, he made it a priority to try to right the decade of cycling wrongs Taipei has suffered as the bicycle was trotted out as a convenient campaign tool and bicycle infrastructure was merely a gift to special interests. Ko has pushed ahead with commuter bike lanes that actually integrate the bicycle into the grid as opposed to banishing it out into the hinterlands...earning praise from the Netherlands.  

This year, Mayor Ko decided to bike the length of Taiwan in the Lighthouse to Lighthouse ride; a 520km effort in under 24hours. The affair garnered criticism from the usual crowd as he had abandoned Taipei city during commemoration events for the brutal 228 Massacre of 1947, in which troops sent by Chaing Kai-sheck swept the streets of Taiwan with machine-gun fire in the weeks following an island-wide uprising in protest of the Kuomintang (KMT) and its maladministration. (Cycling Through 228

During the events sparked by 228, Mayor Ko's grandfather, as a member of the local gentry, was arrested and brutally tortured for his cooperation with the Japanese colonial administration during their fifty years of colonization. 

Mayor Ko describes his decision (Taipei Times):
An emotional Ko became teary several times during his speech, which seemed similar to his 228 speech in Taipei last year. 
“I was moved to tears giving a speech [recalling the memories of my grandfather] in the 228 ceremony last year, but my father did not shed a tear. Fathers are stronger when their children are weak. It is a father’s nature to protect their children. It was then I decided my father and I would not cry anymore on 228 Memorial Day. We have to move on from sad histories, so I chose to commemorate the 228 Incident in a different way this year,” Ko said. 
“I challenged myself with a ‘twin tower’ bicycle trip — from Taiwan’s northernmost Fuguijiao Lighthouse [in Keelung] to its southernmost Oluanpi Lighthouse [in Pingtung County] — to seek redemption for the soul with a 520km physical undertaking. In the past, our tears were filled with rancor and hate. Today, we opened up a future of tolerance and forgiveness with sweat,” Ko said.
I have a lot of respect for Mayor Ko as a cyclist and as a mayor. My impression is that he is really willing to do what needs to be done to make a commuting by bicycle a viable reality in Taipei. 

It is in this light that I think the Velo-cities Global conference could be useful, rather than merely looking at it as an award for a job well done. It should be more of a promissory note to move forward and learn without the backslapping we have seen time and again in the media. 

BikeBiz reports:
“We are here in Taipei to celebrate the future," said Manfred Neun, president of the European Cyclists’ Federation and the World Cycling Alliance. He was flanked, in the picture here, by Giant's CEO Tony Lo and company founder King Liu. 
Neun continued: "By bringing together more than 160 speakers among experts, professionals, mayors and public authorities, Velo-city Taipei is the place where the evolution of cycling takes shape.” 
Taipei's Deputy Mayor Lin highlighted Taipei City Government's plan to rejuvenate the city and make it more livable by 2050. “From now on, neighbourhoods will develop wherever the bicycles go. The cycling-orientated network will lead city-wide development."
Of course, when you are flanked by the holy trinity of the advisor to the president on cycling, the head of Taiwan's largest bicycle advocacy group and the supplier of the YouBike system in Taipei, it all looks good. Giant CEO, Tony Lo, even had the grace give an old chum another political hand and praise Ma Ying-jiu for YouBike...a plan that had been severely mismanaged under Ma.  

Taipei still has a long way to go, but lets hope Mayor Ko stays the course and resists the politically expedient, but almost useless, leisure bikescapades.