Cycling: from the marginal to the mainstream

cyclists on the road in Muzha, Taipei

There was an article by Angelica Oung in yesterday's Taipei Times about government officials trying to enforce laws for cyclists. Another article detailing the laws also recently appeared in the China Post (thanks to Ilan for the link). From the Taipei Times:

Cycling is currently a loosely regulated activity, with unhelmeted riders switching from pedestrian sidewalks to roads with impunity.

All that may be set to change with the Ministry of Transportation and Communications set to tighten rules regarding cycling.

Mooted changes include laws making helmets and lights mandatory equipment, as well as a tougher stance on cyclists on pedestrian sidewalks and crosswalks except for specially designated stretches of wide pavements.

"Where are cyclists supposed to go?" asked Hua Jian (華健), an associate professor of mechanical engineering at National Taiwan Ocean University.

Hua takes his bike for his daily commute to work.

"Buses bully cars and cars bully scooters, but all vehicles bully bicycles," he said.

The government officials have a car-centric world view. They usually don't ride bicycles and look at the problem from the wrong angle. The problem is not cyclists breaking the laws (plenty of cars and motorcycles break the laws too). The problem is there are too many vehicles on the roads and this creates a lack of safe space for cyclists and pedestrians. It is important to educate cyclists about safety, but often they simply have nowhere safe to ride.  

It is easy to be look at this situation negatively. However, I think the fact the government is paying attention to cyclists is because there are more bikes on the road. At Forumosa.com Feiren recently noted:

Bicycling has been gaining in popularity steadily over the past few years and rather dramatically in the last year.

Anecdotal evidence–I began riding in Taiwan in the early 1990s. At that time, it was extremely rare to see other riders and I really was a freak for riding to work. Five or six people commute to work at my office now and I see dozens of other office workers commuting on my way every day. And there are many riders out on popular rides like the Xindian Loop and the Northern Cross Highway. Bicycling is exploding in popularity.

Australian cycling blog Spinopsys notes that there is a quiet revolution going on.

I commute by bicycle because it saves me lots of money and it’s quicker, doing my part to save the world is a side benefit. Believe me when I say that it ain’t much of a sacrifice.

I’m certain too that none of this is top down; based on the evidence so far, political will has been sadly lacking. Though it’s trite to say it, politicians today are not leaders but poll focussed followers, so today’s sound and fury surrounding G8/Kyoto or whatever the latest excuse for talk is called, is simply in response to that growing groundswell.

Things are quietly changing in Taiwan. While there are no headlines screaming it from the front page cycling is slowly moving from the marginalised to the mainstream. An article from yesterday's Taipei Times tells about students from Taidong riding to Hualian to celebrate their graduation from elementary school.

Two movies about cycling have been made in Taiwan in the past year: Island Etude and The Road in the Air. One might be cynical about the motivations for Ma Ying-jeou's bike ride from the southern to the northern end of Taiwan, but it shows cycling is something that resonates with the public.

Drew sent me a link to the website of Ian Hung (洪挺鈞), a Taiwanese man who rode his bike around France. Some cyclists from Taiwan recently set off on a ride from Beijing to Paris to promote the idea of a "Car-free Asia." I have reported on this blog about the Car Free Day and 422 Bikes on the Road protest.  There was also Bike Day with rides around Taiwan on 5 May 2007. The Thousand Mile Trail plan includes plans for cyclists as well as walkers. 

The government may not be able to solve Taiwan's traffic problems but perhaps the people are smart enough to work it out for themselves!! So get on your bike, but please wear a helmet.

7 thoughts on “Cycling: from the marginal to the mainstream

  1. Pingback: Spinopsys » Blog Archive » A quiet revolution

  2. Hey David,
    Good article! Indeed, I was amazed at the increase in the popularity of bicycles upon returning to Taiwan last year. At first I though it’s just because I live near the Merida Factory in Yuanlin and the boss made a decree for all the workers to use the products they make! However, after a while it became apparent that cycling had become super popular in Taiwan. When I first came to Taiwan 10 years ago, it was mostly older people and kids that rode bicycles and nobody wore a helmet except the Mormons. Now I see nice new bicycles everywhere, and bicycle clubs going on rides. A lot of people are wearing helmets these days in addition to sporting all the other gear.
    – Keith

  3. Yes, I would say cycling is still largely regarded as a recreational activity. The infrastructure and traffic conditions don’t really encourage bicycle commuting. Still I think for cycling to become a popular activity is a good thing and the use of bicycles as transport can only grow as a result.

  4. Thanks for mentioning my article. I am really on the fence regarding the helmet law. There are a lot of contradictory studies as to whether or not they actually protect your head in a serious collision with a vehicle. I wear them because I’m quite likely to fall off my bike out of clumsiness and they protect your head very well for that.

  5. I’ve also read multiple studies conducted in multiple countries that found that bicyclists who wear helmets have higher long term rates of injuries than those who don’t. Cars don’t give serious looking cyclists quite as much space.

    This is probably just a case of the government thinking it knows best when it really doesn’t. I would love to see bicycles kept off of pedestrian sidewalks, though.

  6. Pingback: Taiwan bike makers get boost - David on Formosa

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