European Cyclists’ Federation Director Questions Taiwan’s Commitment to Cycling

A reader spotted this ad in Florida

In a report from Taiwan Focus, Kevin Mayne, the director of a major European cycling advocacy group leveled some needed criticism of Taiwan’s commitment to incorporating cycling into the transportation grid despite Taiwan’s recent claims of being a “bicycle kingdom” and a “cycling paradise”. 

According to the report:

“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’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.

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.
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 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.
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.

The rebuttal from Giant’s King Liu may serve to best exemplify what is wrong with Taiwan’s cycling infrastructure.

Meanwhile, King Liu, chairman of Taiwan’s bicycle titan Giant, pointed out that the government invested NT$3 billion (US$100.85 million) to build 2,088 km of dedicated bike lanes around the country between 1999 and 2011. 

The government plans to invest a further NT$1.2 billion to build more bike lanes in the next four years, he went on. 

Giant cooperated with the Taipei city government in 2009 to launch the Youbike, which is now used by over 20,000 people every day, a number that is expected to increase when the program is expanded this year, he added.

The focus is always on the abstraction of numbers and never on how these projects will benefit the society and the community. Liu does not detail how those lanes are expected to be used.

In practice, many/most of those kilometers exist on the fringe of the cities and are allocated for leisure cycling, and thus they do little to reduce carbon emissions or reduce the use of motorized traffic. Most of those lanes are completely divorced from the transportation grid that connects home and work. Cars. busses and scooters are not being replaced by bicycles in Taiwan.

In many ways Liu highlights why Taiwan’s priorities are not in-line with Mayne’s vision of urban cycling. The goal is not really to promote bicycle infrastructure, but rather to dole out tax dollars to townships and sell more Giant bikes (the more expensive ones the better).

As a nation with access to domestic bicycle production, the glad handing over kilometers and tax dollars spent should be replaced by a sense of shame and missed opportunity…. unless you are in the business of constructing all those kilometers of bike lanes.

3 thoughts on “European Cyclists’ Federation Director Questions Taiwan’s Commitment to Cycling

  1. Related though not quite the same, I recently saw a safety poster at a bus stop in Taipei declaring that “bikes are cars too” (playing on the “che” character they share) and that bikes also need to obey rules of the road and shouldn't be on sidewalks. The fact that bikes are presented as a safety problem when there is so much reckless driving here just shows how unwilling the government is here to treat bicycles as a “real” form of transportation.

  2. You're never going to get cycle commuting in any real numbers in Taiwan. Even if the govt got right behind it and supported it properly, few would take it up for one very practical reason – the weather. With the exception of a few weeks around March and a few around Oct / Nov, it's either too hot and humid or too cold and wet, for cycle commuting to ever be viable. Your average office lady is not going to ride a bike to work and arrive covered it sweat to spend her 12 hours in the office. Unless you can convince private companies to provide proper showering and changing facilities at the office, all the political will and cycling infrastructure in the world is just going to be a giant waste of time, money and energy.

  3. The other practical and obvious problem is time. I ride my bicycle to work too from Tainan city out to Xinsih district which takes between 45 minutes and an hour depending on traffic and weather conditions but when time is limited, as it sometimes is, I switch to the scooter which gets me there in about 25 minutes. But when I ride my bicycle, I do so for health and fitness, not for environmentalist reasons.

    Here are three “pragmatic” reasons (there are others) why the government should not seek to reduce C02 emissions:

    1) Taiwan's C02 emissions are something like 1% of a global total which increases by more than that (perhaps 3%) every year. So even reducing them 100% would fail to prevent the increase in global emissions, but even reducing them by say 10-20% would impose considerable domestic costs.

    2) Aside from the hysteria about “tipping points”, there are ample reasons to think that the current long-term warming trend will have positive externalities and not just negative ones. The obvious case being the amount of currently frozen land that could potentially become arable over the course of this century in places like Canada and Siberia. Yet the case for reducing C02 emissions typically relies on a simplistic formula of adding up all the possible negative externalities and dismissing the possible positive externalities.

    3) The fact that there has been no statistically significant warming trend over the past 15 years despite increasing atmospheric C02 concentrations indicates that there is reason to believe that there are other mechansims responsible for the long-term warming trend besides the greenhouse effect. Taking note of that statistical fact is not “denialism”, as even climatologists are discussing the current temperature standstill amongst themselves and ruling out their higher estimates of climate sensitivity. It may be that even if C02 emissions could be significantly reduced, the planet will continue to warm over the course of this century anyway.

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