Visitors to the Taipei International Cycle Show, held every March in the Nangang Exhibition Halls, get free tickets on the MRT light rail system but few international visitors seem to use these tickets. Instead, they jump into taxis, and complain about prices when the taxis inevitably get stuck in Taipei’s famous traffic jams.
Even fewer of the international visitors ever venture out on bikes. Most assume Taipei has no cycle paths because the highway network is so densely packed with cars and scooters.
In fact, a five minute bike ride from the Nangang Exhibibition Halls, on backroads, and you’re on the Keelong River bicycle path, which links in to Taipei’s other riverside bike path network.
This bike route is hard to see from the elevated highways or even the adjoining road as it’s hidden by flood defence walls. But once you descend to the river network, the cycling is easy. There are lane markings, sign-posts in English, kilometre markers, and ramps for ease of access for cyclists. Where there are steps, these have often been given mini-ramps to enable bicycles to be wheeled up or down.
The bike paths are, in fact, two lane roads, and it’s possible to cycle for many miles on these flood access ‘roads’.
Bicycle advocates from around the world will be descending on Taipei at the end of this month for the Velo-city conference, and they will see first-hand what members of the trade – or, at least those who ride their bikes when in Taiwan – have known about for some time.
With elevated roadways soaring above your head, and routes for pedestrians sometimes separated with low-walls not just paint, the bike paths by the rivers in Taipei are model examples of segregation done well.
But, on weekday mornings, when you’d expect such superlative bike paths to be full of bicycle commuters, there are almost none. ‘Build and they will come’ only seems to work at the weekends in Taipei: that’s when the bike paths are used by locals.
The riverside bike paths aren’t in recreation-only areas, they skirt down-town, but because the links to the river paths have not been put in place, there are few cyclists in evidence.
More and more protected networks of bike paths are being built, and riding a circuit of the country is becoming a rite of passage for many Taiwan residents.
But the network is by no means complete and what has been built is used patchily, a demonstration that cycle-only networks have to be designed as a whole, not in bits. No matter how good the infrastructure, if a wide, safe bike path doesn’t connect to other wide, safe bike paths, it can be minimally used, undermining the reason for building the infrastructure in the first place.
Nevertheless, the growth of cycling in Taiwan is a great example of what can be achieved given the political will. And it's probable that hosting Velo-city will be used by the local government as another stepping stone to making Taipei more cycling friendly, and as the "grid" of cycleways in Taipei expands so will use of bicycles in Taiwan, a double-whammy for an island that is proud to be known as the "Bicycle Kingdom".
More info on Taiwan's cycling infra can be found on BikeHub.