According to a brief report from the Council For Economic Planning and Development (CEPD), an economic advisory council to the Executive Yuan, Taiwan's government has earmarked increased spending aimed at expanding the current bicycle transportation network.
The plan allocates NT$ 4 billion with the goal of laying 3823km of bicycle lanes and related infrastructure.
Part of this plan allocates NT$870 million for 2011 intended speed the completion of the "Integrated Bikeway Network Construction Plan", which aims to link existing bicycle networks and create bicycle transportation corridors between urban and rural communities, and between business and residential districts.
The plan also seeks to invest in other centers for bicycle culture, including velodromes and recreational resources.
I. The Good:
It is refreshing to see Taiwan's government taking the initiative and pledging funds for wider bicycle networks beyond simply recreation, which has, thus far, been the major recipient of public funding.
The report highlights the importance of building bikeways between districts and localities. It speaks to the diversity of Taiwan's bicycle cultures, and it imagines the bicycle as a means to seek economic revitalization of some areas; this could potentially include areas that have seen economic decline due to alternative transportation routes, or other demographic changes that have had a negative impact on the local economies.
II. The Bad:
A project like this will also encounter many potential pitfalls, which include:
The central government will have to resist special interests and take this plan directly to the localities to see what riders and potential riders might require to become interested in such a network. This plan can not be directed from the board rooms of the bicycle manufacturers or in a paternalistic top-down approach directed from a politician's personal viewpoint. This network needs to be built from the ground up if it is to serve the public with open public debate.
It is not just the bicycle interests that pose a threat to an effective bicycle network, it is also politics at the national and local level. There will undoubtedly be local politicians, factions, organized crime groups, business leaders and a muddy mixture of all of them fighting to pull and manipulate these routes for their own benefit, which may run counter to the interests of the rider. We have seen this with other transportation systems (bussing), where a powerful local interest shifts public transportation routes to benefit their own businesses.
Another problem is graft. It is not inconceivable for local representatives to be allocated a budget reserved for bicycle trails. The local representatives *may* simply purchase several dozen "bicycle" tiles to embed in existing sidewalks and designate it a "bike trail", and thus pocketing the difference. This process, much like any other public construction project, is ripe for organized bid rigging as well. It is not unheard of for organized crime groups to collude on rigging bids for construction projects and inflate a bid two or three times the competitive rate. In many cases local representatives are linked closely to these construction companies and interest groups. It will take dedicated oversight to ensure the public is benefitting from this investment and it is not just a scheme to buy votes and influence elections.
This system can not work if it is not regularly managed, supported and enforced. The government must allocated annual funding for maintenance, public safety and law enforcement to ensure these bikeways remain safe and unobstructed at all times. The trouble with many of the current systems is that they are made useless by unauthorized obstructions like parked cars, scooters, private vendors and pedestrian traffic. The purpose of any transportation system is to ensure flow. I can also imagine some locations being ripe for both petty and violent crime if not regularly enforced. Regular, fair and predictable enforcement is one of the key necessities for any transportation system to work well. Riders need to feel comfortable riding these systems.
Although thus system pays lip service to balancing the interests of Taiwan's different types of riders, there has been far too much emphasis on bicycle tourism. The government has made very much noise over the past 3 years about boosting tourism and its economic agreements with China, but it risks a) over emphasizing one area and b) replacing good, high earning jobs in competitive industries with low earning
service jobs in tourism. Although the government can boast some success in job creation through tourism, the type of jobs being created are not on par with those being exported. Moreover, these jobs do not require the the type of competitive skills educated Taiwanese hope to leverage with their college degrees. Tourism is a superfluous industry of leisure. It is open to manipulation and political interference. Putting too much emphasis on Chinese tourists is especially risky for this reason.
Taiwan's bikeways should focus on bringing people to their jobs and not simply be the job.
I am glad to see an enhanced vision coming from such a conservative body. I am also glad the CEPD envisions bicycles as a part of Taiwan's future economic development beyond export and tourism. Now we need to see lip service transformed into public service.
I will be watching these developments closely.