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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? 

Climbing Taiwan's Northeast: Highway 9 to Route 42-North (9號線--北42--坪雙路)


With a little time over the Lunar New Year, we decided to head up to the Milan area for a little R&R. The weather in Taiwan for this winter has been really cold and damp. Some might say it is atypical for Lunar New Year in Taiwan, but actually, it has returned to something that used to be normal. When I first arrived almost twenty years ago, the winter vacations were always freezing and rainy.

For this particular vacation we had snow for the first time in a very long time and the mountain passes were a mess. Our original plan entailed climbing out of Yilan to Taiping Shan. Unfortunately, the roads were rendered too dangerous to ride by the recent snowfall and we were forced to choose an alternate route.

This was a good thing for me as a couple days before I had fallen asleep on the couch and when I awoke in the morning, my entire back was in knots. That never used to happen to me before....

We decided to climb out of Yilan on the Highway 9, which once served as one of the main highways between Taipei and Yilan, and then return on the North 42 to Fulong before hitting the coastal Highway 2.

I was a bit nervous as my back had not recovered and I had been hobbling around like an old man all morning. I figured I would give it a try and hopefully warm myself out of it.

As soon as my ass hit the seat I was gripped with a sense of fear...and the sense of excruciating pain as it felt like needles jammed up my backside and into my spine. I stood and pedalled for a few blocks before easing into the saddle for good.


We navigated our way through the mirrored fields of the Komalan plain to the opening ramps of the Highway 9. I could tell it was going to be a long day as my legs failed to entirely show up for the ride. It was just one of those unfortunate days when it feels as though the heart is circulating strawberry jelly and everything is turned to blah.

The opening switchbacks look a lot more formidable than they are. It is a suitable route for even the novice given enough time.

As we pressed up the hill, we passed a rider from Hong Kong who was on his final leg of a round-island trip. He complained that he had followed the government endorsed route, but there were too many sections that were clogged with traffic while a perfectly viable road lay parallel to the route.


Up and up we climbed. Each turn revealed more spectacle. The Highway 9 is a great route in that it feels very much like eastern Taiwan, while allowing a rider to shortly arrive in Taipei.

The hills are surrounded by jungle and green. It is every bit of the east coast a rider could hope to encounter.


The road was nearly empty, except for the occasional cement truck and a few cyclists. It was quite a pleasant trip.


In the distance, Taiwan's only active volcano, Guishandao, was on full display.


We traced the curves of the Highway 9 until we reached the old tea farming town of Pinglin.

Pinglin is generally known for its unrolled teas, but now it is becoming a haven for all those asshats on their big racing motorcycles that cocky their way up from Xindian to play F-1 on public roadways.

We stopped at a 7-11 for a coffee and some nutrition for the latter half of the journey. I had been anticipating a colder day, but I was actually feeling warm and peeled off the layers.


Our escape route would be the Northern Route 42 to Fulong. The road starts behind old Pinglin near the freeway and it quickly took us from the dense jungles of eastern Taiwan, to the rolling farms and deep valleys of the north.


This was such a wonderful route. There were no really killer climbs to drain the legs. It was just a series of rolling hills and tight descents.


Each corner threatened to spit us into a lost wilderness, but there was always something assuring nearby to remind us that we were not too far from somewhere.

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The road skirted along the Wenshan tea farming area with some of the choicest views from the northern hills.

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Finally, we reached the descent into Fulong. It was a beautiful10k hairpin drop. I kicked through each bend and gathered speed for the next. Bang Bang Bang!!! What a fantastic way to test your own tracking and cornering. It was like bicycle powered flight.

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We arrived in the beach community of Fulong and sliced a good chunk of time out of our trip with the Caoling Bike Tunnel--a repurposed train tunnel that allows a rider to simply pass through the mountain as opposed to having to circumvent the Sandiego Peninsula.

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After soaking up the views and losing my camera, we headed back to our hostel in Luodong.
I as really feeling tight and had to stop a few times to stretch the legs. I was really holding us back, but I needed to be sure I'd be okay and not experience any knee pain or any of the things that had been bothering me in the past.

No issues... just some fatigue.

It was a great way to wake the legs up for some vacation riding.