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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

You Bike Saving Taipei Traffic? Not Yet!


For the next couple of weeks a lot of attention will be focused on Taipei and cycling in Taiwan. In the lead up to Velo-city Global, Taipei Cycle and the Tour de Taiwan, takes a look at the development of Taipei into a cycling friendly city. 

The piece is a pretty lengthy piece that looks into the recent developments in infrastructure development. You can read the whole thing HERE and come to your own conclusions. 

Here are a few items of note:

The article attempts to link Taipei's hosting of Velo-city Global as validation of Taipei's recent development. 

When Taipei won its bid to become the first Asian city to host the premier cycling conference Velo-City Global 2016, YouBike’s success was credited as one of the main factors. 
A 2014 report by European Cyclists’ Federation on Taipei’s cycling achievement noted that cycling mode share (percentage of total trips done by bicycle) in Taipei is up 30%. It now stands at 5.5%, a figure yet to be matched by many European capital cities (in cycling utopias like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, however, bikes account for more than 50% of trips in the cities). The usage figure for YouBike matches the world’s best, and women make up 50% of the cycling population – a gauge of the city’s cycle-friendliness.
This is interesting seeing as of 2013, Kevin Mayne, the director of the European Cyclists' Federation (ECF), the organization responsible for Velo-cities Global, was quite critical of Taipei's efforts. I wrote about it at the time and had this to say (Full Post) :
According to the report: 
Mayne's observations and recommendations came amid the opening of the 2013 Taipei Cycle bicycle expo in Nangang.
Mayne's stinging criticism underscores what many cyclists in Taiwan have understood for a long time. The solutions are there, but the political will is not.
Cities friendly toward cyclists usually have speed limits of below 30 kilometers per hour, he said, citing German and Dutch cities as examples.  
He said the bike-sharing system in Paris, for example, offered 15,000 bikes when it was first launched, while Taipei's bike-sharing system, Youbike, currently offers only 1500.  
Mayne's observations are welcome words to cycling advocates as he knowingly, or not, shines a light on the fact that much of Taiwan's trouble in realizing its own ad copy comes from the fact that cycling and cycling infrastructure is often deployed by opportunistic politicians to score cheap points or direct public funds into politically advantageous locations. There is no wide-spread commitment to cycling beyond tourism. Much of what has been built is simply for show with little concern for function.
"Taipei, March 20 (CNA) Taiwan needs to lower its speed limits and allocate more space for cyclists if it hopes to achieve its aim of transforming into a "cycling island," a foreign expert said Wednesday."
Mayne, whose federation consists of national cycling organizations throughout Europe, said speed limits in Taiwan are too high for cars and scooters to coexist with cyclists.
He said lowering speed limits is also a "cheap" solution to building Taiwan into a cycling paradise, as nothing needs to be built. "What you need is political will and enforcement," he added. 
Mayne also advised cities in Taiwan to allocate more space for cyclists and to take bolder steps to improve the environment for them, citing New York, Paris, London and Vienna as examples of cities that are currently doing so and upon which Taiwan could model itself.
It may be that in the past three years Taipei's infrastructure has greatly expanded beyond Mayne's expectation, or, like other international conferences, Taipei was willing to incur the additional costs of being a host city. 

I will concede that You Bike and other bike-share programs have greatly expanded and the bikes are being used. The customers tend to be predominantly students who don't want to ride the bus home from school.Taipei has not reduced speed limits nor provided too much more space for cyclists. 

The article continues: 

“Before we even talk of putting cycling into the equation, we need to talk about the whole public transport system,” says Dr SK Jason Chang, the director of Public Transport Research Center and Professor of Transport Systems at National Taiwan University. 
In short, for bike-share systems to work and to encourage commuters to cycle the first or last mile of their journey, they need to be able to transfer seamlessly between the various modes of public transport. 
A strong support from the central government and collaboration with the bicycle manufacturing industry are also vital ingredients for the scheme to work, Chang added. The city government forked out funding for the bike-share infrastructure and Giant Manufacturing Company designed and supplied the bicycles, and operates the scheme. Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) subsidised the first 30-minute rental for the bikes.
As for being part of the solution, therein also lies part of the problem. The government tends to rely almost solely on industry to provide benefits for its citizens, while the industrial actors do not serve citizens, but rather, a board of directors and their shareholders. There is too much potential for tax dollars to be used less efficiently when being directed by a private bicycle company that is seeking to maximize profits. 
To date, most of the advocacy work has been led by Cycling Lifestyle Foundation, a semi-commercial organisation funded by Giant – the world’s largest bike manufacturer by revenue. Based on Giant founder King Liu’s vision: “to promote cycling as part of our lifestyle,” the Foundation works closely with government and policy makers to promote cycling as a mode of recreation and sustainable transport.
It is troubling that Giant, the company that has been tapped to direct several You Bike programs, including the program in Taipei, has been allowed so much leverage in creating a system that works to secure exclusive, markets for Giant products and bends the consumer to the options provided by this one company. Giant's founder and nominal president, King Liu, also served as a special advisor to Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jiu. This wouldn't the the first time we have seen Giant involving itself in national policies that have impacted society as a whole. Giant's CEO, Tony Lo was publicly involved in pushing for the passage of Taiwan's disastrous ECFA agreement with China; an agreement that has flooded Taiwan with Chinese imports with nothing even close for exports to China. But I digress.  

And so, a private company that has high-level representatives working in the Ma administration, and large interests outside of Taiwan, is the largest advocate for cycling in Taiwan. They might as well design public bike paths that lead directly to Giant retail outlets...or has that already happened? 

It should be noted that Mr. Cheng, the expert cited for this article, has served as an advisor to Mayors Ma Ying-jou and Hau Lung-bin to tackle the transportation problems of Taipei. The article continues to draw in some questionable politics from Mr. Cheng's narrative as it continues: 

When President Mayor Ma Ying-jeou was elected into office in 2008, he announced a NTD30bil (RM3.7mil) funding for Energy Savings Emission Reduction Policy, which triggered a boom in green transportation and cycling became all the rage. 
“All these combined factors made the bike-share programme take off,” says Chang. 

When then Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin wanted to initiate the pilot bike-share programme in Taipei, the Foundation sent an entourage of Giant bike technicians and Yang to Paris to learn about the Vélib bike-share scheme in 2008. Over the years, the Foundation has invited government officers on all-expense paid study trips abroad (cough!) to check out best cycling practices. 
“Now that recreational cycling is well established, we are promoting cycling commuting to complete the last piece of the puzzle,” says Yang who has the ear of the city and central governments. “We need more bicycle paths in the city so more people will be willing to commute by bicycle. More cyclists mean safer streets and less traffic accidents.” 
What Mr. Chang should have said was that Taiwan's Energy Savings and Emissions Reduction Policy have improved in spite of Ma Ying-jiu's policies. Most of the forward motion we have seen has been the culmination of external factors, prior programs and the reaction, in the case of the scrapping of the 4th nuclear power plant, to widespread public disapproval. As of this writing, most of Ma's proposals have not been completed or have been negated by energy intensive industrial policies, while renewables have been chided by Taipower, the EPA and the government as being unreliable as they look for more excuses to build large concrete power plants that are easier to use as political bait for embedded interests. 

Moreover, Hau Lung-bin was responsible for the NT$60million debacle of a bicycle lane on Dunhua S. Rd. which smacked of patron politics. The Dunhua bike lane was removed at tremendous cost.

For the past several years Taipei has concentrated spending on leisure bike trails and opportunities for tourism without addressing the immediate interests of the city.

Taipei's current mayor has recently come under fire for the city's traffic congestion, due, in part, to his initiative to construct a grid of bicycle lanes throughout the city-- a move which may be politically costly, but far more effective than prior initiatives.

Probably, one of the greatest unaddressed issues may be the inability for the government to reign in the cost of housing, forcing people into longer commutes at greater distances. Although the use of motorcycles has dropped with the implementation of rail lines, single automobile use has actually risen to 3512 for every 10,000 residents.  

Environmentally, Taiwan, with its resources in technology development should be miles ahead. But it is not.

What made the bike share scheme take off was when the city purchased higher volumes of bicycles from Giant, but the issue is to be sure those bikes are replacing motor vehicles.      

After sugar-coating the situation in Taipei, the article continues with some revealing criticism. 

In a recent survey by the DOT on cycling safety, nearly 40% of pedestrians complained about cyclists who ride on arcades (five foot way) or sidewalks, and 20% of respondents abhor cyclists who weave in and out of traffic or ride outside of designated cycling lanes. 
“Our population is dense, we just don’t have enough room to accommodate infrastructures for different modes of transport. People have to learn to respect and live harmoniously with each other,” admits Commissioner Chung. Taipei has 2.7million people living within a 271.79sqkm space, with a population density of 9,944 residents per sqkm (Kuala Lumpur’s population density is 6,890 people per sqkm). 
“We will continue to run campaigns to educate people about respecting each other’s right of way and road safety.”
One of the city’s main priorities is to reduce the number of cars and motorcycles on the road, Chung said. 
“Our vision for Taipei city is zero traffic death,” adds Chung, whose preferred mode of transport is YouBike and she doesn’t own a car or motorcycle. 
In Taipei and the metropolitan areas, motorcycles outnumber cars (about 3.1million motorcycles versus 1.5million cars by the end of 2014) and account for 54.1% of total traffic fatality within Taipei city. Over the years, the city has reduced parking spaces for motorcycles, eradicated free parking for cars and widened the sidewalks for pedestrians and bike lanes.
Successful, Taipei in not.  

So, what are some things Taipei can do to live up to its wish to become the capital of a "bicycle kingdom"? 

  • Bicycle racks on every city bus. This is common in many countries and a system I grew up with, but not in Taiwan. 
  • Bike storage on EVERY train. Currently, there is a complicated system for transporting bikes on trains that is little understood by everyone involved, including TRA employees. Trains with a bike car do not run at convenient intervals. Cyclists on trains should receive an incentivized priority and not be treated as a problem. 
  • Safe bicycle storage throughout the city. You Bike solves part of this problem, but for riders with their own commenting set-up, there is nowhere safe to lock a bike for the day.
  • Reduce speed limits and enforce traffic laws regularly and evenly. Keep cyclists safe. 
  • Make bicycle education a part of driver training programs. (I know... sigh...)   
  • Separate bicycles from other traffic. Bicycle space could easily be created by clearing the sidewalks for pedestrians to travel. Any parent immediately understands the challenge of safely pushing a stroller down the occupied public sidewalks. These obstructions push pedestrians and bikes into conflict. There is space, the city just has to create it.
  • Suspend funding for leisure trails until a higher standard in met within the city. 
  • Adopt stricter regulations on industrial emissions and rapidly invest in renewables to phase out the heavily polluting coal fired power plants for cleaner, safer air quality to make cycling outdoors a healthful experience.  

Monday, February 22, 2016

Taiwan Promotes Healthy Bicycle Lifestyle Amid Killer Pollution?

Over Jiji

Taipei Cycle (March 2-5) hopes the Velo-city Global conference will help boost flagging interest in the bike expo that has been searching for more of a purpose amid competition from Taichung Cycle, Eurobike and Interbike trade shows. BikeBiz has a brief interview with Yi-jyh Kang, the executive director of exhibitions for the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA).

My favorite part of the interview is the last comment that has been ripped straight out of the talking points memo, complete with a mention to an old CNN infotisement Here, Here and Here: 

And Taiwan has been growing its cycle infrastructure…?
Taiwan is known as a Cycling Kingdom for its strengths in manufacturing high-end bicycle products with reasonable prices. However, we are doing more than that. The industry and our government are promoting the “cycling lifestyle” and would like to encourage people to get used to cycling in daily lives. For instance, the bike rental system, YouBike, is very common for public transportation in Taipei and New Taipei City. Besides, the government is constructing cycling paths all over the island, like the one around Sun Moon Lake was even selected as one of the tenmost beautiful cycling paths in the world by CNN. With convenient facilities and beautiful sights, Taiwan is becoming a cycling paradise and more and more people are crazy doing cycling tour here. I would very much like to recommend all of you to come and truly experience cycling here. This is going to be something that you’ll never forget.

Oh, and then there's this....

Although not exactly cycling related, this story should pique the interest of outdoor athletes in Taiwan. The Taiwan Healthy Air Action Alliance alleges Taiwan's air pollution problems may have led to death and injury in the Kaohsiung Marathon.

The Taipei Times reports:

Severe air pollution might be to blame for the death of a runner during a marathon on Saturday and the critical condition of another marathon runner, who fainted while running on Sunday, a group said. 
The runner died after collapsing in a marathon in Yunlin, and the runner who lost consciousness was participating in a marathon in Kaohsiung. The second runner was hospitalized after defibrillation. 
Yunlin and Kaohsiung had elevated levels of fine particulate pollution measuring 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter (PM2.5) during the marathon events. 
The Taiwan Healthy Air Action Alliance yesterday said that the PM2.5 levels during both marathons reached the “purple” level — the most severe degree of PM2.5 pollution defined by the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) — and although there is no definite causal relationship between air pollution and the two incidents, the health hazards of air pollution could be equal to those of natural disasters.
Of course, these claims have not been verified as other mitigating factors may have led to the participant's death, but it is something to think about. Currently, southern Taiwan is on the receiving end of a weather system out of China that is delivering high levels of dust and pollution combined with our own local varieties.


Current air quality can be monitored here.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Another Tour de Tai-yawn?: Gains and Losses for Taiwan's Favorite Stage Race in 2016


Once again, the Tour de Taiwan is upon us. It is usually a time when I can sit back, roll my eyes at the anaemic route selection, debate if I should even bother writing anything about the race, then end up dicking on it for blog content. Though, some years it hasn't really been worth even blog-fill status. 

It is usually the same or similar routes that cover the some of the least inspiring roads and landscapes Taiwan has to offer, while barely offering a challenge to thin out the skilled riders from the hangers-on. Some routes even sent riders into the gloom of industrial Dajia to pay homage to Giant Manufacturing, leaving way too much on the table and again failing to show an international audience why Taiwan is a top tier cycling destination. 

With the 2016 iteration of the Tour de Taiwan looming (March 6 - March 10), I thought I should take a look at this years's offering, and I was surprised to see something a bit different. It is by far not the perfect route and still has a lot to complain about, but it is something that does actually have some merits that I can highlight between sighs, eye-rolls and exasperated exclamations of, "whatthefuck!" 

Stage 1: Ren Ai Rd. Circuit
Place: Taipei City
Date: 3/6/2016
Time: 9:15 Start
Distance: 62.4km

The first stage of the TdT is usually a short criterium or time trial to leave room for opening ceremonies and an opportunity to promote the race in a highly visible area. Taipei would be that area. 

The first stage of the TdT fits the bill. It is pretty much a circuit along Ren Ai Rd. from Taipei City Hall to the National Taiwan Museum and back. Between straightaways there are two roundabouts and the more technical navigation of the city hall building, where there will be three opportunities to pick up points for the sprinters in the bunch and probably where the action will be. If the pace is hot it could be a fun opening, but it could also become an over adorned warm up lap. 

Usually the first stage seeks to establish some kind of order in the peloton. This is, by far, not the most imaginative route and has few surprises. What is there to say... it is a one-road loop.  


Stage 2: Tamshui-Baisha
Place: New Taipei City
Date: 3/7/2016
Time: 9:30am Start
Distance: 116.37km

The second stage will also be rather short, coming in at 116km, but will provide something a little more interesting than a criterium. 

Stage 2 starts off on the historic Tamshui area and then follows the No. 2 Coastal Highway to Wanli. The Highway 2 follows a series of low rollers long the windy northern coast toward Keelung. Riders will have to perform a loop on the 北15 before tying a knot out in Wanli where they will have the chance to pick up points on the sprints and the battle of the KOM will officially get started. It is hard to call it s KOM with a 71m climb, followed by a 361m climb on the 北28. After doubling back for a second sprint at the same place, the riders follow the coast back to Baisha. 

What I like about this stage, is that the route crosses in several locations to add a little flair to the map, and it also incorporates some local routes aside from the provincial highways, which proves the point I have been making for a long time---That Taiwan's best local roads are capable of supporting a competitive stage race. They are wide enough, safe enough, and smooth enough. 

What really annoys me about this section, is that with so many amazing roads that cut through the old Yangmingshan volcano, the route planners insist on covering the same ground by doubling back over the route in return. The planners could very easily have stuck a real climb into the route and had the riders charge over the mountain before cruising back into Basha. It could be a sand to summit affair. In general the planners seem to have forgotten that most of Taiwan is mountainous and kept the climbs about as intimidating as a petting zoo. 


Stage 3: Taoyuan-Jaobanshan Park Yawnfest
Place: Taoyuan City
Date: 3/8/2016
Time: 9:30 Start
Distance: 118.84km

It is the third stage of five and the race has still not moved out of the top eighth of the country. This is because the area around the Taoyuan International Airport is so captivating and because fumes from jet fuel are so invigorating they could not resist hosting a race to advertise the tourism potential of the Taoyuan Areotropolis--a disaster in the making (HERE)--rather than directing the race into the foothills between Taoyuan and Hsinchiu. In this case it appears the luscious asphalt of Hsinchu and Miaoli counties will be left to be enjoyed by the local amateur riders who know how to enjoy them. 

The TdT route through Taoyuan is essentially the same as last year with a gradual increase in altitude, providing three opportunities for KOM contenders to grab a few points after the sprinters have had their fun way back near the coast. Now, I must admit, I do think the area around the Shimen Reservoir is a pretty place to cycle if you have to pass through Taoyuan. The final KOM offers 438m of altitude--another relatively small climb for Taoyuan, but I am sure the contenders will make a meal of it. If the race organisers could just dispatch with the part of the race that involves cycling on expressways and stick to the more exciting roads of the interior.


Stage 4: Nantou/Sun Moon Lake
Place: Nantou City/County
Date: 3/9/2016
Time: 9:30am Start
Distance: 166.56

Living in central Taiwan, I tend to hate on the central stages the most, This time it isn't the case. I can see the logic in this. 

Starting at Nantou City Hall so that all the Bigs can be seen looking important, the race heads down probably the worst section of the Highway 3 south of Taoyuan. The entire stretch through Nantou is just a pit. I would have suggested leaving Nantou on the 139, which would go through Jiji anyway. I know the are trying to work in the Route 152 bikeway, where tourists pump pedal cars and rentals among shady trees and train tracks. I can't remember if there are places where old rail lines cross the road or not. Something to watch out for. The greatest innovation here is with the use of the Route 131. It is not exactly the most challenging road into the Sun Moon Lake area. It is actually a quiet little road that allows a rider to slowly climb without having to confront harder climbs on the other routes. This again shows that smaller roads can support this race. The route returns to Nantou on the Highways 21 and 14. These are both favorites of the Taichung triathlon community. They are wide, smooth and direct. There are a couple of short, but annoying climbs coming out of the Highway 14 into Cautun. The route loops back through Nantou because it is so nice they need to ride it twice. Then the riders are directed into Sun Moon Lake on the Highway 21. The Highway 21 is not a bad road. It is not my favorite road into the area, but it has a bit of a grade and it traverses the jungle around Shuili. Since Taiwan has to advertise Sun Moon Lake, and stage racing has been married to tourism since the very beginning, this is one way to work Sun Moon Lake into the equation. Stage 4 has two opportunities each for the sprinters and KOM. At 789m, the climb over by that silly concrete tower will have to suffice. Again, there are better roads, but for the TdT, this actually isn't the usual offering. 


Stage 5: Siraya/Maolin KOM
Place: Tainan/Kaohsiung
Date: 3/10/2016
Time: 9:30am Start
Distance: 146.26km

The fifth and final stage in the TdT is another route of respectable distance in an area that shows a little more imagination that the circuit racing or years past. The fifth stage immediately runs headlong into the endless foothills of Tainan's gorgeous reservoir district. I was just cycling through that area, so my memory is fresh with the feeling of being slowly beaten down over a day of punchy climbs. The route passes through Yujing to the much larger Highway 3 and then the Highway 20. The route to Jiashain is nothing spectacular. It is straight and flat. I imagine that is why they put a sprint in there to wake up the peloton. The climb to Liugui is enjoyable with a few corners on the descent. 

What really perplexes me about this route is the ridiculous idea to avoid the Highway 27 on the southern side of the river. The only explanation I can imagine may be to arm photographers with zoom lenses to snap amazing photos of the riders passing in front of the looming misty haystack mountains that line the northern bank. Otherwise the Highway 27甲 is in worse condition and much uglier than the tree covered pastoral beauty of the Highway 27 and its superior scenery. The other innovation of this route is to hug the hills and then finish the race with a climactic KOM bid into the Rukai village of Wutai before the road falls apart. Again, the climb is a mere 816m, which is a mere coffee and cake climb in Taiwan, and would be better mid race. 


The 2016 Tour de Taiwan offers several improvements in offering more scenic and creative routes to maintain spectator interest if it is televised. The organisers seemed to shy away from any of Taiwan's iconic climbs to make a distinction between the Tour de Taiwan and the Wuling KOM. It still seems they left way too many routes on the table and failed to really include a nasty climb like last year's inclusion of the Highway 21 route to nearly 3000m on Alishan. Moreover, the 2016 TdT spends most of the race confined to the greater Taipei area while neglecting most of Taiwan--especially the foothills of Hsinchu County, Miaoli and Taichung. The Highway 21 from Taichung to Puli would make a great addition in the future. At five stages the Tour de Taiwan is a little short for the available riding. I would like to see another stage or two to increase the drama with maybe a team time trial to really encourage the display of the teamwork that goes into stage racing. 


In looking at the teams, I am again reminded of the past troubles we have had with allegations and implications of doping and dopers in the TdT peloton. The Iranian teams and VINO 4-Ever-SKO seem to be constantly battling the aura of scandal swirling around their teams. Looking at last year where the top places were all grabbed by riders who had previously served a ban for doping. 

Last year I wrote
The winner of the KOM was suddenly poised to take it all. 
This wouldn't have been a big deal. It really wouldn't. The only issue is that Mirsamad Pourseyedigolakhour, the winner of the KOM and eventual winner of the Tour de Taiwan... is a drug cheat.  
The Iranian cyclist just returned from a two-year vacation for the use of EPO. Another Iranian cyclist to grab the second slot, Hossein Askari, recently served a one year ban for  methylhexaneamineThe third place on the GC was also snagged by a drug cheat. Rahim Emamai, who also took the 2013 Wuling KOM, previously served a two-year ban for clenbuterol, a drug known as the asthma medicine of choice than made its way into seasoning Alberto Contador's prime rib. 
Only Patrick Bevin, the Kiwi of the Avanti Racing Team, made the podium without the dark clouds of a recent doping ban hovering over his head.
Another disappointment is that Giant, the bicycle company that many Taiwanese take great pride in as a globally recognized bicycle brand, and a perennial sponsor of the Tour de Taiwan, will be headlining a team from China, while its less visible RTS brand will be represented by Taiwanese riders. 

Pishgaman Giant Team / Iran 
Tabriz Shahrdari Team / Iran 
VINO 4-Ever SKO / Kazakhstan 
Drapac Professional Cycling / Australia 
UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team / U.S.A. 
Stölting Service Group / Germany  
NIPPO - Vini Fantini / Italy 
Parkhotel Valkenburg Continental Team / Netherlands 
JLT Condor / U.K. 
Hrinkow Advarics Cycleang Team / Austria 
Avanti IsoWhey Sports / New Zealand 
Cibel - Cebon / Belgium 
Team Ukyo / Japan 
Utsunomiya Blitzen / Japan 
Giant-Champion System Pro Cycling / China 
Team Tre Berg-Bianchi / Sweden 
Skydive Dubai Pro Cycling Team / DubaiTeam Illuminate / U.S.A. 
RTS- Santic Racing Team / Chinese Taipei 
Chinese Taipei National Team / Chinese Taipei 
The Cycling Team of Hong Kong, China / Hong Kong 

I just hope everyone has a safe and welcome stay in Taiwan. Hopefully some of the riders will return and discover what the TdT won't let them see. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

A Breath of Fresh Air: The Art of the Cycling Lifestyle


In the lead up to the Velo-city Global 2016 Conference, which will be held in Taipei at the end of February in the Taipei International Convention Center, Shin Kong Life has commissioned an interactive light installation with a focus on cycling that hopes to demonstrate the connectivity between the health of a city and an active, sustainable lifestyle.

Shin Kong commissioned The Loop.pH, a London based experimental design studio, to construct an art installation that requires active participation from cyclists in the city. 

According to The Loop.pH: 
Fleeting trails of light are created as participants physically interact with the installation by cycling through the vortices of light. The light visually communicates local air quality with dynamic branching structures, reminiscent of trees and the tubular networks in our lungs.  
The installation uses and advanced air quality sensor to collect the fluctuating data. The installation draws on the field of aerodynamics, the study of air in motion, to communicate the dynamic, borderless nature of our planet's fragile atmosphere. On top of the treelike structure is a network of ephemeral tunnels that move gently with the breeze. 
As cyclists we have all experienced Taiwan's growing problem with unhealthy levels of air pollution that completely negate the health benefits of cycling. Cases of lung cancer and childhood asthma rates have more than doubled over the past two decades, with one out of every five first graders receiving a diagnosis for asthma in Taipei, and lung cancer becoming the leading cause of cancer death in Taiwan. 

As Taiwan seeks to promote itself as a "Bicycle Kingdom" while rebranding the nation for cultural and ecotourism, the nation will have to address the problem of pollution. 

Check out more about the VelO2 installation project at The Loop.pH Facebook page. 

Opening 26th February, 6-8pm
Dadaocheng Waterfront, Taipei
26th February– 6th March 2016

Friday, February 12, 2016

Miaoli 23 and Me: The DNA of Cycling in Taiwan (苗23, 苗119, 苗38)


With Lunar New Year coming to a close, I thought I needed to get out and put one last exclamation point on my winter of riding. I can't stand repletion in my riding, and therefore, I am always looking for new roads and routes to try. Taiwan seems to have an unlimited number of combinations of the most incredible roads to choose from, and experience has taught me, that no matter how messed up Miaoli has been with most everything else, when it comes to marking roads for cycling, they know what they have some imagination.

Last year I pressed my luck for a wild ride along the CPC Petroleum Rd. that runs along the spine of Miaoli's foothills. For the past year I have been eying the hills to the north of the Highway 6, which runs to Gongguan (公館), and every time I drive the No.3 Freeway or take the HSR, I keep looking out over those hills to figure out where they might be so I can ride them. I have already ridded the 苗26-2, and I have done the 苗22. Both are fine roads. The 苗124 to the Shitan Reservoir is a favorite. But those roads simply flop over the hills one side to the other. I was looking to cut the hill right down the middle. The answer could be found in the 苗23.


I headed out along the Highway 3, my usual corridor into Miaoli County, and kept things on autopilot as I made my way over each familiar roller before Dahu. I stopped to refuel at the 7-11, just on the northern edge of Dahu where the Highway 6 connects to Gongguan. It wasn't too much further that I read the fine print on a series of inconveniently bent and twisted signs, that I found my 苗23 at 八角坑.


I could hear dogs barking not too far off, so I gingerly made my way into the hills on full alert. Luckily, the dogs were all tied up (You can never be too cautious) and I slid quietly along some wonderfully paved roadway.


The opening salvo sounded more like a whimper and I thought I may have picked a disappointing low spot in the topography. A few fields here and there and a little bamboo amounted to the best of the treats at the lower end.


I soon realized I was having to work a bit harder beneath a gray and green lichen covered rock.


It was about this point that the climbing began.


It first started out with a tease. A ramp here, a pitched climb there followed by a levelled bend and then repeat.


The foreplay soon came to an end as the hill was simply going to throw introductions to the wayside and simply dive into it without even a handshake.


I stomped on the pedals and slowly heaved my way higher toward the summit. It was unrelenting.


Unlike most roads that promise a reprieve behind the next bend, this road just threw another dose of steepness.


I slithered upward through bamboo groves and tall forest. I would occasionally catch a glimpse of the mountains in the distance, then the road would loop back into itself and I would disappear under the shade of the forest.

The weather had threatened to rain all morning and would spit raindrops in annoying spurts of indecisiveness. But as I humped my bike up that hill, the weather seemed to clean up.

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At last I hit the summit and took some time to enjoy the scenery. I noticed the road has been marked as part of the Gongguan Challenge and deservedly so. That is a fantastic hill for those interested in testing their climbing chops.


At the top there are several options. I continued for a minute or two and hooked up to Bo-ai Agricultural Rd. Apparently the 24-1 goes to the same place. But the 24-1 does not go past a Taiwanese hillbilly shack and all the fun that entails... with the cat calls.

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Bo-ai was a less refined road, but it was fine. It follows the ridge line through fruit orchards for almost a kilometer before plunging downward.


The road cuts through the skinny cedars and deep pink cherry blossoms as it traverses between peaks.

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The descent is enough to cook BBQ of the rims. A safe descent and a quick descent shall never be paired on this road.


Much, much too soon, I tumbled out onto the Highway 6 near one of Taiwan's few oil wells and was keeping an even pace toward Gongguan.


My plan had only been as far as Gongguan. I didn't know what kind of shape I'd be in by the time I hit bottom, so I kept my options open. I thought I might try one of the 3X roads that slice through the hills of Miaoli and empty out by the strait. I looked up and down the map and finally decided the Route 38 had enough shape to hold my interest. and I rolled along the 119 to the foot of the hill across the bridge from Gongguan.


The first ramp just about tore my quads from the bone, but luckily it was a short climb with confusing enough signage to give me a moment to rest and argue with a local over the correct way to go (I was right). I hoped in the Route 38-2 toward Jiuhushan and the low altitude tea fields.


This climb was as bad, if not worse than the last one. Holy unrelenting pain, Batman! I couldn't believe this too had been designated for bicycles. Most cars were struggling to make it to the top. It was an essay in vertical. What a work out. Climbers, come.... This is your road.

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I reached the summit and after some meandering through the farms and through the crowd of a tourist temple, I arrived at another feast for the senses.


Western Taiwan has never looked so wild. All the way to the ocean, green, knife-edged hills lined up in rows.


The descent is a remarkable feat of technical descending. I probably would have had a little more fun, but the road was still quite wet, so I kept things sane. This is an awesome hill to attack from either side.

I slung myself past the Flying Cow farm and onto the Highway 1. I was very conscious that I hadn't been on the Highway 1 for good reason and couldn't imagine why the government had insisted it become the keystone of the round-island route. I just tried to take the industrial wasteland in stride and my mind wandered toward taboo subjects, such as, how I had been over so many gnarly roads recently without a flat.

Then I had a flat in Dajia. I was able to pull a shard or tetnus infused steel out of my tired before changing the tube and heading out.


My legs were about as dead as they have been in a very long time. So I rewarded them with one last climb up the back way into Taichung beneath the No.3 and No.4 Freeway interchange. That was mainly so I could privately suffer up the last hill into Taichung without an audience.

Just as I started the climb, the sky opened up and I got soaked.

Yes, if not for that flat tire near Dajia, I would have made it home dry. Curse that Highway 1. It is an abomination.