Taiwan manufactures bicycles, but as they are mainly for export, Taiwanese themselves ride very little. As Taiwan has become more wealthy, cars and motorscooters have became more widespread. As these replaced walking as the preferred form of transportation, the number of cars and scooters has risen to 6 million and 12 million respectively in a country of 23 million people.
As people searched for faster ways to acquire wealth, automobiles became inseparable from the Taiwanese way of life and a staple of its economy. Because of their mobility, convenience and easy parking, scooters became the most common feature of Taiwanese traffic.
Because streets are mostly constructed with cars in mind, they are now the kings of the road. Although scooters aren't as dominant as cars, they are still a mainstream form of transportation. The problem is that most riders are scared off by the danger of being engulfed in chaotic traffic. Since bicycles don't have any rights on the road in practical terms, they have gradually been abandoned.
However, with so many people living in such a small place, Taiwan needs to consider the use of bicycles on its roads as soon as possible. It needs to develop new traffic regulations and decide how to use its land based on the needs of pedestrians and cyclists. If Taiwan wants to ensure that children can safely walk or ride a bike to school, it must first review land use policies and the state of the road network.
The energy crisis in the 1970s forced Western countries to re-examine the role that bikes play in traffic and transportation. This included the race to build bicycle-friendly cities.
Northern European countries have a thriving bicycle culture and have made many feel that riding bikes is a part of life. Copenhagen, Denmark, has even put forward plans to make bicycles available in cities for free. Traffic and transportation planning firms in the US have dispatched experts to northern Europe to study bicycle culture as they try to develop their own networks. Facing the possible exhaustion of gas and oil energy, the US is once again turning to biking, walking and mass transportation as developmental options.
Because bicycle use is low in Taiwan, appropriate laws are inadequate: Bicycles come under the same category as scooters and motorcycles. When it comes to creating a bicycle-friendly environment, Taiwan must improve its game.
Chang Hsin-wen is a lecturer at Chung Hua University's Department of Leisure and Recreational Management.
Translated by Marc Langer