All too often, cycling through Taiwan’s traffic-choked cities feels like negotiating an assault course in a Looney Tunes cartoon. Hidden hazards — frenetic car drivers, weaving scooters and meandering pedestrians — one after the other, hove into view, ready to topple the unsuspecting two-wheeler. However, a report issued by the Control Yuan last week paints a different picture: Cyclists themselves are responsible for more than half of bicycle-related accidents in Taiwan.
The study found that “improper bicycle riding behavior” accounted for 50.57 percent of bicycle accidents. Furthermore, the number of bicycle accidents has been increasing each year since 2012, the report said. From 2012 to last year, there were 53,763 fatal and non-fatal bicycle accidents nationwide.
It is significant that accidents have been on the rise since 2012, as it was around that time that bicycle-sharing systems really began to take off. In July 2012, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications published white papers on “green transportation” with the twin aims of increasing passenger volume on public transportation and improving the walking and cycling environment in Taiwan’s towns and cities. This led to the promotion of government-backed bicycle-sharing systems such as YouBike in Taipei.
YouBike launched with a wobble in 2009, and now boasts the highest user take-up of comparable share bike systems anywhere in the world, with 400 docking stations and 13,000 bikes peppering the capital.
In the past few years, Taiwanese cities have also seen the introduction of pay-as-you-go dockless bicycles, although as predicted in a Taipei Times editorial (“Time to get a handle on share bikes,” June 30, 2018, page 8) dockless systems such as oBike are unsustainable and destined for the scrapheap.
Nevertheless, bicycle-sharing systems, in one form or another, are here to stay. The proliferation of cheap and convenient bicycles has added large numbers of cyclists to the roads, yet little thought seems to have gone into how to safely integrate the influx of boneshakers onto Taiwan’s already congested roads. Should cyclists be allowed on — or even encouraged to use — sidewalks? Should there be a network of designated cycle lanes that other vehicles are prohibited from using? Should it be mandatory for bicycles to have lights fitted after dark? Much more thought needs to be put into how to create a pleasant and safe environment for cyclists.
Yet, perhaps most lacking of all is education on how to safely ride a bicycle. This is borne out in the report, which identifies five leading causes of bicycle accidents: failing to yield to other road users or improper turning, traffic signal violations, road sign offenses, riding the wrong way down the road and crossing the street without due care. The compilers of the report might have added a sixth category: riders bumping into pedestrians while buzzing along undercover walkways.
Cycling proficiency tests should be introduced as a mandatory part of the curriculum for elementary-school students or as the culmination of programs run by local community groups. If children are taught how to ride and safely interact with other road users from a young age, this would go a long way toward reducing the number of accidents.
With wide-scale adoption of near-silent electric scooters, cars and even buses just around the corner, road conditions in Taiwan are likely to become even more perilous: all the more reason proper education needs to be introduced post-haste.
While Taipei will clearly not become Copenhagen overnight, there is much that the government and schools can do to create a more pleasant environment for cyclists and pedestrians in the nation’s towns and cities. It is not only Taiwan’s motorists who need to up their game: Cyclists need to shift up a gear, too.
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