Thu, Mar 24, 2016 - Page 8 News List

Cyclists encroaching on pedestrians

By James Baron

Years ago I was tinkled by a cyclist on the sidewalk outside the student dorms at Shida. In response, I engaged in my version of what soccer goalies call “making yourself big” — deliberately positioning my body to obstruct passage. Why? Well, for one thing I am just awkward, but also because Taipei is such a horrible city for pedestrians that I cannot abide people encroaching on what limited space we have.

This incident occurred shortly after I had done my 50cc scooter license test. In Taiwan that is 100 percent written. In addition to learning that poorly dressed motorists sully national pride and that it is poor form to splash pedestrians on rainy days, I confirmed that bicycles were not allowed on sidewalks.

By an extraordinary and extraordinarily satisfying coincidence, I had a printout from the Department of Transportation Web site in my backpack to corroborate this when the tinkler argued to the contrary. Flabbergasted, as I brandished the document, he latched on to the Asahi tallboy in my other hand. “You’re not allowed to drink beer in the street in the US,” he retorted with magnificent irrelevance.

The effort to turn Taipei into a cycle city has borne fruit.

The Guardian ran a piece called “Return of the Bicycle Kingdom? How pavement cycling is transforming Taipei” on Tuesday last week that focuses on the initiatives that have shot bicycle usage figures for the city way past those of New York and London. The author of the article, Nick Mead, who was in town for this year’s Velo-city Global Conference, heaped deserved praise on the YouBike system and the riverside cycling paths.

He also referenced a threefold increase in cycle lanes within three years, though the caveat that this extra space would be on the sidewalk and, thus, taken from pedestrians was telling. Another interesting figure was the 386.24km of sidewalk that is now apparently open in its entirety to cyclists.

Rereading the piece at a cafe, I smelled something dodgy, and it was not the flaccid scrambled egg. The author’s description of a short jaunt around Taipei gave the impression that sidewalk cycling is legitimate pretty much anywhere. This raised questions.

First, considering most cyclists — and certainly most YouBikers — stick to the sidewalk as it is, giving official sanction to the practice seems redundant. Also, why bother creating more separate lanes on the sidewalk if swathes of it are already available to cyclists?

I called the Taipei City Government to find out.

“I don’t know,” I was told after sustained prevarication. “You can ask the police.”

By the time I had impressed on her how unimpressed I was with this answer, demanded something better, then been subjected to several loops of mandopop Muzak, my 10 minutes was up — this being the maximum time allotted for each inquiry. I went to the local police station for some communal recrimination.

As far as the police were concerned, riding on the pavements is illegal anywhere in Taipei, though they were not prepared to be quoted on that.

“Who knows,” the junior officer said. “The city government will probably blame us for their mistakes.”

The following day I happened to be close to City Hall and decided to pin someone down on this.

After some false starts, I found the Department of Transportation office on the sixth floor of the northwest wing. After some preliminaries, I was directed to the subdivison chief Ryan Lin (林俊源).

This story has been viewed 3617 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top