Sunday, October 28, 2012

Great China Post Editorial on Cycling

Bike path outside Ershuei, Changhua. Note the high quality surface.

My man Drew's Taiwan in Cycles gets a mention in the China Post in an editorial on (f*ck yeah!) how cycling in Taiwan is done all wrong. Great work, Drew! The CP says:
Let's face the biggest problem straight off the bat — the central and local governments like cycling because of cash and self-promotion. It comes as no surprise that this year's Tour de Taiwan route — like those before it — was taken to task by cyclists for being dull. The Taiwan in Cycles blog actually summed it up quite well as “a bunch of boring crap.” Instead of showing what they were made of by pushing up the alpine hills of Hehuanshan or following the turquoise seas of the East Coast, entrants battled mainly boredom and muggy air. Keeping the event profitable, both monetarily and politically, means keeping its route bound to densely populated areas instead of using the event's considerable exposure to help make the country be taken seriously by the international racing community.
I blogged on why the Tour was so awful here, with maps and all (in the comments there is an explanation of why the Tour de Taiwan routes are so awful). Drew's original post is here. Great work, China Post, in using Drew's trenchant blog and in pushing cycling, for which the island is so totally suited. Great work, Drew, in being relevant (Drew's own post).

The excellent editorial itself hits many of the problems:
Making this jump [to bike commuting] would be far from difficult. Cycling is already popular, folding bicycles are common, Taipei is generally flat and there is already an extensive public transport system that allows bicycles to be carried onboard, making mixed-mode commuting easy. The biggest obstacle is getting bike paths constructed to make commuting safe. Dedicated bicycle lanes are not and will never be sufficient, given the local driving habits and amount of traffic. Taipei's YouBike system is admirable but is not built for commuting and the capital needs a systematic overhaul of its roadways and road rules. Unfortunately other attempts at cycling paths are not encouraging, like ones in which motorists unflinchingly dive in and out of the lane and others with uncomfortable, tiled surfaces.
These are all things that Drew and I and other cyclists have complained about for years. Just yesterday I rode around the bike paths outside Ershuei. The landscape was enjoyable, but the surface of the "bike path" was appalling. As you can see in the above pic, a steady flow of powered vehicles has ripped huge holes in the path surface. We were passed several times by blue trucks carrying farm equipment. The routine use of bike paths by vehicles for driving and parking is a problem all over the nation, in both rural and urban areas. So is the insane use of bricks, tile, and cobble for biking surfaces. If I were cynical I'd be arguing that someone was making a bundle using leftover bricks and cobbles for bike lane surfaces, but of course I am never like that. But the lack of law enforcement, and the poor choice of surface materials, reinforces the view that the government's bike lanes are simply Potemkin villages not meant for a serious change in the island's lifestyle.

The CP editorial correctly points out that the metro could permit bikes, but in fact it permits only at some stations and then only on weekends. The first step would be to permit bikes on the metro all day long at every station except for Taipei Station during off-peak hours.

Not only is Taipei flat, it is also not very large. Lead the nation, folks!

Another issue that would have to be addressed is Taiwan Railway's often bizarre bike rules. At major tourist cycling stops such as Fangliao (for Kenting) and Fulong (NE coast) you can ship a bike by train as a parcel, but you can't ship one out -- you have to ride the train with the bike back to another station like Songshan or Keelung to ship it as baggage. The act of putting a bike in a bag -- any bag, even a plastic garbage bag -- means that shipping is free on so-called "bike trains" as luggage, whereas on the same train shipping the bike unbagged means that you pay the express parcel shipping fee. The last time I trained to Hualien there was a group of cyclists who had special bags so large they didn't have to disassemble their bikes; they just popped the bike whole into the bag, zipped it up, and schlepped it onto the train. The "designated bike local train" simply means that you can only put your bikes on certain trains, which have no special infrastructure or rules for bikes -- and they frequently occur during rush hour. Because so many people enter the Taipei basin by early morning train rides, the TRA situation will have be addressed by a rational policy. Just take the 7:37 express out of Taoyuan -- it is absolutely packed with commuters, yet it is a designated bike train -- the commuters all sit in the "bike car" which is either a dining car or a baggage car with no special adaptations for the needs of bikes.  All locals should be bike trains, and designated bike trains should have special hangers and whatnot for bikes. Fortunately, local station managers are frequently relaxed about the rules, especially on the east coast line, mitigating much of the obtuseness.

But above all, the government has to take the view that the bicycle is more than just a trendy recreational vehicle. It needs to truly support bicycle commuting, and build a bicycle culture here.

EVENT: The next big bike ride is over Alishan Nov 24-25, leaving from Taichung. Overnighting in Caoling. Leaving early, climbing up to Fenchihu via the 169, picking up the magnificent 159A in Shijhuo to finish the ride to Chiayi city. Train home from Chiayi.

ADDED: Speaking of communications and traffic, how about this ferry for the Suao-Hualien run? 80 mins back and forth!
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J said...

Good post, but allowing bikes on the MRT during weekdays would be a very bad idea because the MRT is already too crowded. A cyclist with their bike takes up four times as much space as someone with no bike or luggage; because the MRT is short on space as it is it should favor those who take up less space and limit those who take up more.
If there was a way to keep bikes to the less crowded sections of the MRT then it would be a better idea.
I'm also a little confused about why Taipei isn't suited for dedicated bike lanes- I would think cities with a lot of traffic and crowding is exactly where you should build them.

Michael Turton said...

The problem with Taipei is the lack of enforcement of park regs, etc. I was thinking re the MRT that bikes could go on before 7:15 and after 9:00 am, for example. Perhaps a dedicated bike car for those hours?

P. S. said...

I know you are not Taiwan Railways, but how can I get my bike from Taichung to PingTung? I want to ride on the same train with it (do not want to ship it), and I want to take the gaotie to Kaohsiung.

If necessary, I could fold or bag it, will that help?

John Scott said...

How about designating half of the last car on each train as bicycle-commuter-priority? The disruption would be minimal, as non-bikers who decide to cue up for that last car would know that they may be sharing space with bikers.

Although I have spent years in Taiwan, I have only made shorter trips to China, HK and Macau. What I find perplexing is that so many HKers who feel they deserve freedom and democracy also regard Taiwan's democracy with such disdain. I wish someone would explain it to me. Is it simply that HKers feel that their historical connection to England somehow makes them more deserving of democracy than Taiwan? Can it be as simle as sour-grapes?

It it oversimplification to just assume that these attitudes are mostly due to the fact that proximity to China, the interconnectedness of HK and Chinese media, and factors of media ownership all work together to prevent any unbiased discussion of Taiwan's development of democracy? From what I have seen, the only associations that HKers can come up with on the topic of "democracy in Taiwan" is fist-fights in the legislature. Apparently, that is the only picture of Taiwan there is room for in their media culture.

Michael Turton said...

I know you are not Taiwan Railways, but how can I get my bike from Taichung to PingTung? I want to ride on the same train with it (do not want to ship it), and I want to take the gaotie to Kaohsiung.

Bagging it is fine. i've taken a bagged by on the HSR many times.

Michael Turton said...

Is it simply that HKers feel that their historical connection to England somehow makes them more deserving of democracy than Taiwan? Can it be as simle as sour-grapes?

It drives me crazy too. I think in part it is jealousy.


Feiren said...

I'm curious about why you think that people from Hong Kong look down on Taiwanese democracy. I actually have the opposite impression that people from Hong Kong look to Taiwan as a social and cultural model and pay a lot more attention to Taiwan than the Taiwanese do to Hong Kong.

Michael Turton said...

Polls, commentary, etc.

I haven't interacted with enough Hong Kongers here about Taiwan. I only know what I hear and read in the media.

Michael Turton said...

And this:

John Scott said...

Is there actually a serious, organized pro-democracy movement in HK? I'm honestly curious to know what it looks like. Academic symposiums don't count.

I know they sometimes organize weekend demonstrations, complain and sign petitions, but all of that falls into the "minor annoyance" (not "serious movement") category, as far as the governing authority is concerned.

J said...

Yeah, letting bikes on during late night/ early morning would make a lot of sense. They should also consider dropping the bike surcharge when ridership is really low.

Anonymous said...

Can bike be shipped from one 7/11 to another 7/11?

Readin said...

"Is it simply that HKers feel that their historical connection to England somehow makes them more deserving of democracy than Taiwan? Can it be as simle as sour-grapes?"

"It drives me crazy too. I think in part it is jealousy."

I believe the term is "sour grapes". See Aesop's fables for more details.

StefanMuc said...

Maybe one more point for the list: companies should be encouraged to provide shower facilities for their employees. Otherwise for many commuters biking just isn't an option.

Anonymous said...

A lot of HKers had disdain for Taiwanese in the past, but I think this attitude might not be so prevalent among younger HKers. Anyways the fact they would even look down on Taiwanese before is just one reason to take HKers' attitude towards mainlanders with a grain of salt.
Did Hong Kong have any "control of its own fate" under the British?