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Monday, May 3, 2010

Students Bike Around Taiwan

Taiwan Today reports on a group of 113 students from Hsin Dian who just completed a 12 day trip to circle the country by bicycle.

I think young people should be allowed to participate in more events like this to gain a greater understanding of their home and their environment. The bicycle allows people greater access to Taiwan and removes the natural beauty from the constant framing of a car window.

Here's the whole story:

A group of 113 students from the Kang Chiao Bilingual School in Xindian, Taipei County, recently circled Taiwan by bicycle in 12 days, covering some 1,000 kilometers and raising NT$170,000 (US$5,423) for charity.

They finished their trip May 1, being welcomed by their parents and classmates back in Xindian. Along the way, the students performed music and gave talent shows to raise money, which will be donated to the Taitung Bunun Cultural and Educational Development Foundation.

Principal Chang Chi-long said each student who participated in the tour did so in the spirit of overcoming difficulty and hardship, and every one of them completed the tour. Chang said he is very proud of them, and that the whole school is congratulating them on their achievement.

Chang said the tour was an arduous and lengthy trip, a real rite of passage for the students, who are all under 16 years of age. The school is going to publish a book to commemorate their efforts on the trip and chronicle the preparation and training they put in before departure.

Director of Academic Affairs Chuang Sheng-li accompanied the students for the whole trip. He said according to his close observation of the students, they matured a lot along the way. The trip was intended to build their endurance, interpersonal relationships and leadership—all things that are very difficult to teach from textbooks alone, Chuang added.

Chuang was most moved by the fact that although 12 students were injured or fell ill over the course of the trip, not one of them was left behind. With the support and encouragement of their classmates, the students managed to complete the entire course together with their friends.

Team leader Lu Cheng-hsiang said the trip tested more than simply physical stamina. The young people also had to work together to overcome difficulties, particularly in helping some of the less physically fit students. Doing so, and successfully avoiding leaving anyone behind, made a huge contribution to the cohesion of the group.

The U.S.B.R.S. and Taiwan's Potential

In the past I have blogged a little bit about Taiwan's need and potential for an integrated bicycle-only transportation grid. Taiwan has several independent bicycle paths and some routes that are designated for bicycles, but these are often barely functional election-day pork that mix cycles and cement trucks, or leisure paths for weekenders. Lawmakers insist bicycles should be classified as slow moving vehicles, yet the reality remains that bicycles are regarded as toys for recreation by the government reps with the funding.

In the United States a group of cyclists and citizens has come up with the U.S.B.R.S. or United States Bicycle Route System; an interstate system designated for bicycles. The system includes a National Corridor Plan that links major metropoles through bicycle routes to take the particular needs of bicycles into consideration as they do with the needs of drivers. The system links the entire country by bicycle route. This could be an expensive system to maintain and police in a country the size of the U.S.A.

Taiwan is smaller and densely populated enough to give an integrated cycling network an infrastructure to build from. It will take administrative sincerity to get something like this done... and we know the powers behind the curtain of Taiwanese politics never saw an infrastructure project they didn't like. The right people just need to figure out how to make money out of an integrated system. It is possible. My recent trip to Kaohsiung reminded me how far a person can go on a bike, and how much of the infrastructure is built around the automobile. Still, Taiwanese love the idea and romance behind the mythic "Round Island" bike trip. If only it could be done safer and better supported, more people would be willing to give it a try.

They key is interagency cooperation and coordination to quit wasting tax dollars on bike paths to nowhere and put the power of the pedal to work with a direction toward connectivity.

Anyway, something for Taiwanese cyclists to think about.