“What is the biggest transportation challenge at this time?” That was the
question posed yesterday to the Commissioner for Transportation for Taipei City. Motorcycles was the response. What to do with the motorcycles is the question.
At the Bicycle Friendly Forum in Hsinchu held at the Chung-Hua University, the question posed was: “How do you shift the motorcyclists to cycling?” Is it a matter of undertaking in-depth psychological and human behaviour studies to understand the motivation of driving a motorcycle and its influence, that would cause a shift to cycling? Is it
simple a fact that needs to be accepted that young people are too mesmerized by speed and by the flexibility of winding and twisting through traffic? Is it the rush of emotions of seeing how close one can cut off a car before one is lying on a pavement with blood flowing onto the asphalt?
I was only in Taiwan for 5 days and came upon a police officer diverting traffic around a motorcycle lying on its side. A large pool of blood was next to the driver’s seat.
The Commissioner of Transportation is concerned: Last year there were 85 road deaths with 60% being motorcyclists of which 80% were under 30 years. “What a waste of the young” he said.
The Tale of Two Cities
Why are not more young people or more motorists and drivers cycling instead?
While the Mayor is a former cycling racer, his past enthusiasm for cycling has not been reflected in cycling infrastructure on the street. The city is very proud of its 17 kilometres bike path along the seashore. The bike path attracts recreational cyclists from cities two and three hours away. They rent a motor coach and come in droves. This very expensive bike path winds its way on stilts over wetlands and along sand dunes. On streets, there are very few separated lanes that could be mistaken for bike lanes, since droves of motorcyclists ride in these lanes. This is a hilly city with many roads descending into valleys, then immediately followed by climbs to peaks with constant rolls of hills.
Why are they not using electric-assist bicycles instead? Does not seem to be in their psychic. Nor are bike lanes in the psychic of municipal staff at this time.
It’s a large city with a downtown that has evolved over the last 20 some years –home for 2 million inhabitants. Streets around the downtown city hall, have been set up to showcase their cycling infrastructure which consist mainly of bike lanes on shoulders between street
curbs and sidewalks. Intersection crossings are coloured. Cycling signal heads give the go ahead to cross intersections. Bike paths along the river have been completed. Now, connections are being made to the downtown, retail and commercial cores of neighbourhoods. Public bike share operated by the city appear around the city hall. With 5,000 bicycles in action, the commissioner feels that the service area is way too small. 10,000 bicycles would be a better number.
While the network is still far from completion, the cycling infrastructure is taking shape with separated bike paths beside the sidewalk as the infrastructure
of choice. From this, cycling mode share has risen to 5.7% in a city where rapid transit is a favourite of commuters and driving is taking a back seat to motorcycling.
Cycling Mode Share – Annual
· Transit 47%
· Motorcycling 25%
· Personal driving 17%
· Cycling 5.7%
· Walking 3%
· Other 2.3%
A few years ago, the city put in coloured bike lanes along a busy street. The reaction has been that these lanes have been a failure. The design did not consider the hoards of taxis that drop off people along the street curb side. Nor was there consideration for drivers who use the lanes to squeeze by other drivers. Nor was there consideration for the motorcyclists crossing the lanes to get to the parking on the shoulder adjacent to the sidewalk.
Street parking is a challenge. Parking restriction sign posts, which we use frequently to tie up our bikes, are missing in Taipei. So are thin trees which also are frequently used for parking. Formal parking tends to have wheel bender racks.
If cycling is to grow for the two cities, there needs to be complete networks with separated cycling facilities.
Currently, there are a few casual cyclists on the road during the week. On weekends the recreational cyclists come out in large numbers, some with spandex, some with casual clothing.
In these cities, the cyclists appear well-behaved, the motorcyclists are not. The drivers use a free flow style of driving. Red lights are some times adhered to while not.
European and North American focus may be to move drivers to cycling for the usually reasons – running out of cheap oil, obesity and personal health, health care costs, and the contamination of the environment, both air and noise.
In Taiwan, the focus of shifting people to cycling is not so much the private car but more the shifting of motorcyclists. The number of motorcyclists exceeds car drivers on the
road. The needless, annual death and serious injuries of your people under 30 is a prime factor for shifting, as well.
Velo-city Team on the Move: Hsinchu, Taiwan. June 24, 2011. See more photos of Hsinchu’s 17 km. cycling facilities.