Tue, Jul 29, 2014 - Page 12 News List

A Youbike over troubled bridges

Bike lanes before Youbike, please

By Aaron Wytze Wilson  /  Contributing reporter

Yongfu Bridge connects Taipei’s Zhongzheng District and New Taipei City’s Yonghe District.

Photo: Aaron Wytze Wilson

Youbike’s expansion to New Taipei City could mean that integrated bicycle transportation between it and Taipei is close at hand. But building too many Youbike stations before a cycling infrastructure — in the form of bike lanes and bike bridges — is in place could possibly result in an unpleasant and dangerous riding experience.

“If the route isn’t safe, I won’t even consider taking a Youbike through Taipei. There just aren’t enough dedicated bike paths,” said Lin Chiung-lien (林瓊蓮), a post-graduate student at National Taiwan University (NTU).

“Every time I’m in the city I always feel it’s really scary to ride,” Lin said.

Lin’s concerns are legitimate for many who regularly use Youbike, a city government-run bike rental service. Despite convenience of use, and a growing number of Youbike stations around the city, Taipei’s biking environment is still missing vital bike lane infrastructure. Without a plan for an overall citywide bike lane system, Taipei may never reach the heights of world-class cycling cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

Taipei and New Taipei City are expanding and integrating their Youbike schemes at a lightning pace, hoping to change car and scooter drivers into cyclists. But without bike lane infrastructure constructed at a simultaneous pace, cyclists could face unsafe riding conditions, squashing efforts to change the cities into a bike rider’s paradise.

MY KINGDOM FOR A DEDICATED BIKE LANE

Although it took more than two years for Youbike to see a large number of registered users, it is now considered a huge success for both the Taipei City Government and Giant Manufacturing Co Ltd, with over 115,000 registered users. The number of stations in Taipei will soon increase to 162.

This has led other cities in Taiwan to partner with Giant to create their own Youbike public rental schemes, including New Taipei City.

After a false start with New Taipei City’s “New Bike,” which was widely derided by both citizens of Taipei and New Taipei City for not being compatible with Taipei’s Youbike bike rental scheme, New Taipei City’s Transportation Bureau has pushed for Youbike to get a fast track introduction to the city, with a pilot project set up in Sijhih (汐止) and Xindian (新店) districts, followed by an additional estimate of 60 new Youbike stations to open by year’s end.

Within two years, the New Taipei City transportation bureau department estimates a total of 300 stations will open across the city, with a total of 8,000 bicycle units available for use. A representative from New Taipei City’s transportation bureau said that they are still doing research right now on how best to integrate their system with Taipei.

But Youbike stations are outpacing the construction of bike infrastructure, leading to a potentially chaotic transition for bikers as demand for bikes continues to outpace dedicated or mixed-use bike lanes and bridges that can give cyclists a pleasant and safe cycling experience.

A TALE OF TWO BRIDGES

Both Taipei and New Taipei City’s transportation bureaus said that some Youbike users who enjoy biking for the purposes of commuting will face difficulties crossing bridges and finding connecting dedicated bike lines. New Taipei City’s Banciao District’s (板橋區) towering Huajiang Bridge (華江橋) is an example of the difficulties integrating the two Youbike systems.

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