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The Seoul Ditch – Better Known as the Cheonggyechon Stream

Cheonggyechon Stream in downtown core of Seoul, South Korea. Uncovered after expressway torn down. This section of bubbling natural water offers walking stones for pedestrians to cross over to the other side 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Cheonggyechon Stream in downtown core of Seoul, South Korea. Uncovered after expressway torn down. This section of bubbling natural water offers walking stones for pedestrians to cross over to the other side 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

  A place for commuting,  walking, exercising, thinking, reflecting, talking, resting, enjoying the arts, being entertained, and communicating with nature.

When I first arrived, I read or heard somewhere that the stream brings a wind of fresh air into the central part of the downtown core in Seoul.  And that was the first thing that I noticed as I took the steps from the street to the water’s edge.  I heard that the stream decreased the air temperature by a few degrees Celsius.  So, I also noticed that.

Looking down Cheonggyechon Stream with downtown skyline of Seoul, 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Looking down Cheonggyechon Stream with background downtown skyline of Seoul, 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

 One has to salute the wisdom and foresight of the conceiver of this idea:   tear down an expressway that covered over an old stream that was then, very polluted and replace it with a linear park. 

As I walked the full length of the 8.3 km stream before it joins a river, I kept looking for fish.  Halfway to the river junction, my search ended as large fishes swam about.  If they are bottom suckers or fish that thrive in clean water, I do not know.

Eight Kilometre Stream with Character Changes Along the Way
One has to admire the creativity of the designer for this stream.  Can one find things to complain about? (Of course, as we are good at that.)  However, one must admire this new wonder of the world.   It combines all the elements that 

Various public art installations along the way, including sculpture of woman carrying a water jug. Cheonggyehon Stream. Seoul, South Korea 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Various public art installations along the way, including sculpture of woman carrying a water jug. Cheonggyechon Stream. Seoul, South Korea 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

 makes it a complete design.  Elements of breathing fresh air, exercise, sports, the arts from visual to sensual, performance, mosaics to statue, places to sit and think, relax, to listen to the city and its creatures, light as artistic expression and live art that changes regularly with new themes. 

It is a stream that changes character constantly from urban sterility to touches of rural trees and vegetation.  From new concrete pathways and walls of today, to rocks that cross the stream as bridges and have seen centuries behind them.  From bare concrete-faced walls to hanging natural, living wall cover that reflects the colours of autumn. 

Bike-pedestrian bridgfe further out from downtonw. Variety of areas along the Stream exhibit different personalities. Seoul, South Korea 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Bike-pedestrian bridge further out from downtown. Variety of areas along the Stream exhibit different personalities. Seoul, South Korea 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

This area of the stream and pedestrian walkway was devoted to a breast cancer fundraising event for a few days. Seoul,South Korea 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

This area of the stream and pedestrian walkways, was devoted to a breast cancer fundraising event for a few days. Seoul,South Korea 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

 At lunchtime, the walkway is congested as any street in large cities.  At other times, it is not deserted as people walk, sit and contemplate, or exercise along the stream.  From formal exercise equipment to stretching along the path,  

Occasionally there are exercise machine installed for anyone to use by the stream. Seoul, South Korea 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Occasional fitness equipment installed for anyone to use by the stream. Seoul, South Korea 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

people do their thing.  Closer to downtown, pedestrians are occasionally joined on the too narrow walkways with a few cyclists. 

More Cyclists On Well-Designed Bike Path
However, further east there is a very well designed two-way bike path, coloured green with edge and centre lines, frequent cycling stencils and with street lighting for darkness.  The path sweeps down from a parallel street along the stream and continues out to the river.

The few cyclists in the downtown sections are now replaced with a continuous stream of cyclists of all ages – the old, the soon to be old, the ones making progress in their life, and the young.  Now commuting and exercising becomes the drive for cycling.  Some have bandannas covering their mouths.  Others have them close by, just in case.

Bike paths along Cheongyyechon Stream are generally well-marked for cyclists. Seoul, South Korea 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Bike paths along Cheongyyechon Stream are generally well-marked for cyclists. Seoul, South Korea 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

One of several pedestrian bridges crossing the Stream, each a different character. Seoul, South Korea 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

One of several pedestrian bridges crossing the Stream, each a different design. Seoul, South Korea 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Bike share system near Cheonyyechon Stream and bike path.  Located abit away from downtown to serve weekend cyclists. Seoul, South Korea 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Public bike share system by Cheonggyechon Stream and bike path. Located abit away from downtown to serve weekend cyclists. Seoul, South Korea 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Finally, I stumbled onto a public bike share system station, the only one I saw.  It is well positioned to service the weekend crowd that wants to go for a spin.

Cycling in the City
Downtown, a fair amount of cycling is done.  Much of it is on sidewalks although even in rush hours you see some cyclists taking up the inside traffic lane.  Some were in ordinary work clothes, others were in their spandex and helmets with their fancy bicycles.  Many had very utilitarian bicycles with a back rack and a high extension to put on too many goods for delivery.

In the urban core, the only cycling facility that I came across was a red coloured bike in front of the palace grounds where it was  too packed with touring buses and cars, not cyclists. 

Cycling on a bike path by the Stream  with the pet dog in side bike basket.  Seoul, South Korea 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Cycling on bike path by the Stream with the pet dog in side bike basket. Seoul, South Korea 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Cyclists and electric wheelchair user out on a fall, crisp day. Some cyclists wear bandanas over their mouths --though it wasn't very cold nor smoggy. By Cheonggyechon Stream, bike path. Seoul, South Korea 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Cyclists and electric wheelchair user out on a fall, crisp day. Some cyclists wear bandanas over their mouths --though it wasn't very cold nor smoggy. By Cheonggyechon Stream, bike path. Seoul, South Korea 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

 As one leaves the downtown core, then cycling facilities started to appear.  On the road paralleling the Stream, the one-way road has a bicycle lane on the left (not right) side, well-marked but not coloured.

There seems to be a good system of bike paths along the rivers, usually coloured.  In suburbia, coloured bike lanes on new roads appeared regularly.  Some were physically separated from motorists and pedestrians, others were not.  Bike paths  are also parallel to the main railway line and highway to the Incheon airport.

Jumping blue dolphin sculptural art work in the Stream. Seoul, South Korea 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Blue dolphin sculptural art work seems to jump-dance in the Stream. Seoul, South Korea 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Making Seoul a More Liveable, Shopping City
Priority number one, get the motorcycles and mopeds off the sidewalk. Step two, remove car and truck parking on sidewalks.  Then remove cyclists from sidewalks.  Follow the Paris lead.

With the Cheonggyechon Stream breathing more life into its downtown core now, the heart of Seoul becoming a more dynamic, lively place.

Further Reading:
TransLink.  Removing Freeways and Reforming Buses: An Interview with Dr. Kee Yeon Hwang President of the Korea Transport Institute.  In Buzzer Blog, Mar. 28, 2011.

Hand painted outdoor tile wall art, seen while walking along Cheongyyechon Stream 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Hand painted outdoor tile wall art, seen while walking along Cheonggyechon Stream 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

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I was inspired to write this article after attending a corporate gala luncheon sponsored by Canon Canada where Maelle Ricker, Olympic 2010 gold medalist for women’s snowboarding, was a guest speaker.

I mused over  the frequency or shall we say, infrequency of world-class competitive cyclists to promote cycling consistently and often, for transportation or as a lifestyle. From Canada it is rare, for any world competitive Canadian cyclist to speak nationally and often, to support cycling infrastructure, particularily with strong, broad market reach. We are not even sure if Lance Armstrong has acted often as public spokesperson in this area. Except for perhaps Ryan Leech.

Over the past few years, Ryan Leech has been one of the rare Canadian cyclists competing internationally who can be an engaging, articulate spokesperson and role model for young and older folks on cycling for fun, recreation, competition or for transportation.  It helps that he does have corporate sponsorship of the bike manufacturer, Norco. It also helps he has a  clean-cut image with a kick for adventure, BMX-cross bike handling tricks,  and now an added dimension as a  yoga practitioner and teacher.  His yoga interest grew out of his need for injury prevention and cross-training.   His appeal is now even more multi-faceted and broader for generating cycling enthusiasm.  In this article at the nsbm.com website, he explains the benefits of yoga for mountain bikers.

For the last few years, he delivers  talks to children across Canada on goal-setting, work perseverance and dazzles them with his bike handling skills. The instructional themes are part of his programs for children, including “Trials of Life”.

Last year, as surprise finish to one of Metro Vancouver’s sustainability public breakfast sessions, he performed some bike tricks. Manoeuvres included leaping onto the conference table plus vaulting himself on bike over 2 probably, petrified  workshop people from the audience who laid down on the carpet face-up.

In the latest video released earlier this year by Norco, he guides the viewer on how much easier cycling can become, if it is dovetailed into a person’s  daily schedule and lifestyle, as a form of transportation and fitness in one sweep.  He speaks on how much easier cycling would be if there was appropriate cycling infrastructure to travel more safely and seamlessly on bike.

There are some facts sprinkled throughout the video on-screen. For instance, within the first year of cycle commuting, a person can lose up to 13 lbs.

Check out this video.  Use it to help others understand personal benefits of cycling and good cycling infrastructure. It’s a great tool for a general audience.

 

Interesting Reading:
Official Web Site for Ryan Leech.

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Facilitating Kinesia Paradoxica in Parkinson’s Disease
We know well, the cardiovascular and psychosocial benefits of frequent cycling.  However now there are recent medical research forays to examine cycling  and possible health effects for some other long-term disorders and diseases. 

Cycling in Saint Raymond du Port-Neuf, Quebec. 2009. Photo by J. Becker

Cycling in Saint Raymond du Port-Neuf, Quebec. 2009. Photo by J. Becker. Man was observed walking with his cane which he later stowed in his rear bike carrier before he cycled away.

 Recently the New York Times republished a remarkable video from the New England Journal of Medicine and an article about some  patients with Parkinson’s disease, who were able to ride a bicycle even though they had  difficulty standing or walking.  The video documents a Parkinson’s patient who rides his bicycle regularily for 10 miles. Yet the 58-year old man could barely stand or walk without trembling greatly and collapsing onto the ground.

Researchers posit a neurological coping mechanism in some Parkinson’s patients, “ kinesia paradoxica”, may be triggered “by the bicycle’s rotating pedals, which may act as an external pacing cue”

Cycling together. Saint Raymond du Port-Neuf, Quebec 2009. Photo by J. Becker

Cycling together. Saint Raymond du Port-Neuf, Quebec 2009. Photo by J. Becker

Similar observations were made for 20 other Parkinson’s patients.  It is hopeful work which may benefit  some patients. After I forwarded  the NY Times article to other people, a woman  indicated that health care staff already had her husband, who has Parkinson’s, unsuccessfully cycle a recumbent bike.  It was not clear if her husband rode a recumbent bike in the past.

Mitigating Some Effects for Prostate Cancer
At this time, Jack Layton, federal leader for the Canadian  NDP political party and long time cyclist, is participating in a medical research study for prostate cancer patients to determine if cycling and other regular exercise can mitigate tumour growth.  The research project, Survivorship Exercise Program is based at Princess Margaret Hospital, a lead cancer hospital in Toronto.  J. Layton has been undergoing radiation treatment.

Ring and post bike parking posts. King St. West, Toronto. Photo by J. Becker

Ring and post bike parking posts. Design concept by former Toronto councillor, Jack Layton. King St. West, Toronto. Photo by J. Becker

For over 20 years, which included his tenure as Toronto city councillor, J. Layton constantly advocated for cycling facilities.  For many years he also chaired the Toronto Cycling Committee and its predecessors.  The story has been  that over a drink of beer,  J. Layton designed on a napkin the now well-known Toronto post and ring for parking bikes. Now there are approximately 18,000 of these post and ring installations. During part of this time, Jack Becker of Third Wave Cycling Group had the pleasure of serving as his public co-chair from 1995 to 1999.

Further Reading:
Kolata, Gina. “For Some, Cycling Provides a Break For Some with Parkinson’s Disease.” In New York Times. Mar. 31, 2010.

Savin, Monique. “Studying Exercise and Cancer –with Jack Layton’s Help”. In Globe and Mail. Mar. 25, 2010.

Snijders, Anke J. and Bloem, Bastiian R. “Cycling for Freezing of Gait”. In New England Journal of Medicine. Vol. 362; (e62). No. 13.  Apr. 1, 2010.

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Participate in B.C. Generations Project, A Health Research Study
Cycling, as part of active transportation, has often been touted as beneficial for reducing certain health problems. There is now a research opportunity to gather and analyze such data to support this premise within this large-scale research project. Perhaps you could even be a research study participant if you are eligible. 

Cyclists on Cambie Bridge, Vancouver BC. 2010

Cyclists on Cambie Bridge, Vancouver BC. 2009. Photo by J. Chong

 B.C. Generations Project is a collaborative research project between the  British Columbia Ministry of Health  and the B.C. Cancer Agency. They aim to collect health information from  30,000 British Columbians between 40 – 69 years old.

This provincial project is part of a national effort which will recruit and follow 300,000 Canadians on a long term basis that seeks to understand how to prevent cancer and other chronic diseases. Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic provinces are other participants.  Project is funded by the  Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.

I volunteered for  the first phase which recruited and tested 5,000 Metro Vancouver residents  by Feb. 13, 2010 –just before the Olympics.   During this initial phase, research participants undertook some medical testing and answered survey questions. I received a handy print-out summarizing general body fat, body mass index, lung function, blood pressure, grip strength, etc. 

J. Fair in Wenatchee, Washington. On a self-supported bike trip from Vancouver, BC to Madison, Wisconsin. Photo by J. Becker

J. Fair in Wenatchee, Washington. On a self-supported bike trip from Vancouver, BC to Madison, Wisconsin. Photo by J. Becker

Questions included dietary habits, general family medical history and at least, 2-3 specific questions on regular active transportation habits—namely walking, cycling and use of public transit.

In the next phase later this year, new research volunteer participants will not  have an in-person assessment due to a “simplified” research data collection process. Please read their communiqué for the latest summary and contacts for interested volunteers.

So whether or not you are a cyclist, and if you have time, take part in this valuable, long-term health research study.

 

Further Reading:
B.C. Generations Project.  Are You Eligible? Largest Ever BC.Health Research Project to Benefit Future Generations.  Oct. 14, 2009.

B.C. Generations Project.  Vancouver Clinic to Close; New Phase Invites All British Columbians to Join In.  Jan. 27, 2010.

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