A short visit to Changwon in South Korea last October left a few impressions.
The City government’s website speaks towards the city’s desire to be a very green city and model for other cities to follow. The Mayor is committed to that. Want to hear him speak on this? Then come to the Velo-city Global 2012 Conference in Vancouver June 26 to 29, 2012 where he will be a Key Speaker.
Some of the first impressions of the city in the urban core were streets with green canopies from lines of trees along streets, very wide sidewalks, and the network of separated bike lanes. As I walked along the streets, the public bike system then took my attention.
Public Bike Share System Well Used by Locals
This is the first city where I saw the activity level at that of the Vélib’ system in Paris or the Vélo’v system in Lyon. Bike stations were only one-third full with bicycles. Young school adults were walking up to the stations in groups of two, three, and four taking out bikes and then continuing their conversations while cycling away at a pleasurable pace. Senior women were cycling on their public bikes from stores with their daily purchases in racks on front of the bikes. Senior men were cycling deep in thought to their destinations.
Public bicycles did not disappear from the streets with onset of darkness. Like Paris, their use continues during the night. Integration of these bicycles with the transit system is important here. Some stations are located by bus stops in higher density residential areas allowing for the last leg of a trip or the first to be completed by bicycle. Their Nubija Bike System (“Nearby Useful Bike, Interesting Joyful Attraction“) was introduced in October, 2009 with the aim of contributing to an eco-friendly urban environment. In fact, one can cycle one of these bicycles down a main road right beside large community garden plots.
Tourists and Public Bike Share: A Challenge
As a visitor, the system is unfriendly. No plugging in your credit card with the magic chip into the card reader at public bike stations. The system is not set up for visitors, only inhabitants or local workers. As a visitor, one needs to find one’s way to city hall. Then one is told to go to a municipal office. Once one finds it, then a ticket can be purchased there. One is on the way to cycling on a public bike. There is nothing spontaneous for visitors for using the public bike system.
Changwon is a friendly place to cycle from the downtown core to the
neighbourhoods. The city is well situated to spur cycling growth and the use of public bike. The certainly have high expectations. The downtown terrain is flat. There are plenty of shopping destinations. There are dedicated cycling facilities to use.
Under the canopies of deciduous trees, a wide promenade stretches along streetways with some form of physical separation from general traffic lanes used by motorized vehicles. These medians are a prime place for trees.
Public bike work here as the downtown area has a cycling network that appeals to non-cyclists. There are separated cycling facilities and bike lanes on streets. Some bike lanes are even separated from both drivers and pedestrians by green medians. Some cycling paths are physically separated from motorists but abut pedestrian ways. Usually coloured surfaces designate the use of each path.
Coloured Pavement Increase Cycling Lane Visibility
Visibility is important to make cyclists feel comfortable on the road. Changwon has done its part. Colour on designate cycling facilities is frequently used, no matter if the adjacent traffic are motorists or pedestrians. Sometimes the bike lanes are coloured the full length, as well.
The intimidation of intersections has been reduced. For pedestrians, there are frequent underpasses. For surface crossing, there are countdown signals using arrows as the time display. Bike lanes crossing over intersections are coloured for private drives, lanes, local, or arterial roads.
Even a quick visit makes one reflect on the slow way that North American cities are approaching their expectations of cycling mode share for the future with minimal annual investments in their infrastructure and their social marketing programs for cycling. Changwon and other cities have more courage in investing significant monies into their cycling aspirations. Money is always tight for municipalities and other levels of government. The question may be by diverting health care funding to cycling infrastructure and social marketing for cycling, how much of the future health
care costs can be reduced. Front-end investments may be the way to avoid burgeoning health care costs, or at least delaying them for a decade or more. For cities and other levels of government, it is a matter of transportation and especially liveable, sustainable, and green urban community policies that produce energetic, liveable cities with growing local economy and retailing. It is a matter of revisiting these policies for the optimal benefit to people and their health.
Changwon is a city that is very similar in size and population to Calgary with 1 million residents and 743 sq. kilometres of land but that is where the similarities end. This city is known for its heavy industrial industries. While urban sprawl may be the way for many Korean cities, Changwon is an exception as it is a planned city since 1974 with many parks and gardens throughout the city giving it a different feel.