When I first came to Taipei, I thought this city was very bike friendly. There were designated cycling lanes on the road and sidewalks which looked inviting. YouBike stations are dotted all over the city and they are so reasonably priced. Hell, in Taichung I didn’t even get charged for using YouBike. Of all the cycling I have done in Taiwan, nothing quite beats cycling on the riversides in Taipei at night, except maybe all the pedestrians who do not understand the concept of what a cycling lane is. And that is my introduction to just what is wrong with cycling in Taipei, along with recent trends in the news.
You might have noticed a new bicycle hire company in Taipei, oBike. This Singaporean company now has their bikes dotted across many cities in Taiwan and at first it looked like a good alternative to the YouBike. I didn’t like the idea of using my credit to rent the bike and making a deposit, but I gave it a whirl and the bikes are better than YouBikes. I thought this might be an excellent way to get around Taipei. That was until I seen how others were parking their oBikes.
Taiwan News reported complaints were made against oBikes being parked in random places and for generally being a bit of a hassle. At first I thought this was a bit of an exaggeration. That was until I started noticing that oBikes were being parked in some pretty awkward places around Nangang Park.
This oBike was left in the middle of a small walkway that is large enough for one person. It was not even parked near the entrance of the park where other cyclists could use it. Whoever left this here really didn’t care about other people being able to find and use the bike and pedestrians. If someone in a wheelchair came by this footpath, they might not have been able to get past the oBike.
These oBikes were parked on the footpath and were placed on the grass so people would be able to walk on unhindered. They were left here because the park is around the corner. Hardly a good place to leave bikes considering there is construction going on right next to them.
Even the oBikes that are parked in a spot are done so illegally because there is already a scooter parked here. I know, like the egg, the scooter came first and whoever left this bike here did it simply out of laziness.
You might be thinking I am being a little bit over the top about this, but I really find it frustrating that people who use the oBikes are so lazy. You want to know why?
Because there is an entirely empty bicycle rack in the main entrance of the park that they can park their bikes in.
Rather than park the bikes in a place where others can easily use them and they will be out of the way of the public, oBike riders are just plain lazy and do not understand the concept of what the oBike system is. It doesn’t require a docking system because as the users we make sure the oBikes are parked in an adequate place, not for the sake of the law, but for the sake of other users.
So, oBike riders are lazy, but the complaints about oBikes taking up scooter parking spots is moronic at best. If oBikes are able to make such an issue for people parking scooters, then obviously it is because city planning is inadequate.
Walking down any street in Taiwan and what you are greeted with is a long line of parked scooters on the side of the road and on the side of all walkways. A lot of scooters are parked illegally and nothing is done about it. Sometimes it is because scooter parking is so badly limited in many areas and other times it is because scooter drivers, like some oBike cyclists, are too lazy to park their vehicle correctly, causing problems for a greater number of people.
The police do very little against the illegal parking of scooters, and very little else for those breaking traffic laws. They are too busy giving cyclists tickets for cycling outside of cycling lanes that are full of people blocking their paths.
2. It’s Easier to Fine Cyclist Than Motorists
As reported by Focus Taiwan, as of July 17, any cyclist that deviates from cycling lanes will be fined $300 NTD. Now it is reasonable to expect cyclists to stay in cycling lanes in a busy city like Taipei, but the issue is that the only people on cycling lanes are pedestrians.
The image above shows the problem of cycling in Taiwan. No matter where you go in the city, the cycling lanes have pedestrians walking in and out of them. Even on the riverside where there is so much room for joggers and people going for a stroll, you still get someone occupying the single lane for cyclists. Again, just like the oBike cyclists, it is just sheer ignorance on the part of the people who walk in these lanes. The last time I rang my bell to tell someone to stand aside and let me through, they turned around and looked like Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy.
Most people will have the sense to get out of your way, but on a busy day in Taipei, crowds of people sometimes wander into the lanes and it makes cycling around the city difficult. Worse yet, you will now be fined for cycling around them. And, to use the word worse again, the lack of cycling lanes and the lack of city planning on roads means it is a confusing mess to know where you can cycle either on footpaths or on roads.
What is obvious is that many people prefer to cycle on the footpath. It is simply safer than cycling on the road, even if they have cycling lanes. These cycling lanes are usually cut off by drivers who think having hazards lights on allows them to park anywhere. It has happened a few times when people parked with their hazard lights on open their doors without checking if someone is coming. I have nearly hit a few car doors in my time here and people treat you like it is your fault they didn’t check if a car or cyclist was going past.
The new cycling regulations make no sense. The time and effort used to make these laws and the hours wasted by the police giving tickets and fines to people is a joke. Rather than making car and scooter drivers respect the rules of the road, they are making cyclists respect the rule of the sidewalk. It shows a complete lack of priorities on the part of the Taipei City Government.
3. Final Thoughts
The issue is that the Taipei City Government cares more about putting a band-aid on a larger problems and focusing on small annoyances. The small annoyances like oBike parking issues and cyclists being outside of designated areas are very small when compared to the issue of bad city planning and the lack of police enforcement of traffic laws. Why would anyone want to cycle on roads where you have the feeling that nobody is paying attention to you as a cyclist? Why would you cycle on cycling lanes full of pedestrians? I guess I answered my own questions there. Either way, the Taipei City Government is quicker to resolve problems that aren’t truly problems than deal with real issues that result in accidents and deaths.