In 2008 Taipei City’s Department of Transportation launched the Taipei Bike Sharing Pilot Program, which evolved into the highly successful YouBike, a bicycle rental project with over 30 million users as of October of this year.
I welcome the use of bikes as a cheaper and eco-friendly alternative to scooters and cars. However, I think that the YouBike so far has had a negative impact on Taipei. There are three major problems that need to be addressed:
1) the government has failed to make the population aware of the risks of riding their bikes on sidewalks;
2) as the city lacks an extensive network of bicycle paths, pedestrians now have to share the same, often narrow spaces with a growing number of bikes;
3) YouBike riders are not required by law to purchase an insurance, like scooter and car drivers do.
As you can see from the video below, some cyclists (in my experience, the great majority of them) have absolutely no sense of responsibility when riding their bikes on sidewalks. Unfortunately, as YouBike grew more popular the situation has worsened considerably.
Last month I was waiting at a traffic light and, as usual, several cyclists were waiting behind me. As the light turned green, both pedestrians and cyclists moved forward, with bikes dashing from all sides trying to overtake the slower pedestrians. A bike then hit my foot; had I worn flip-flops, I may have got hurt. Luckily, the tire only left a scratch on my shoe, which is still annoying enough, since the shoes were expensive. The girl who was riding the bike smiled, said sorry, and rode off. A few days later, a bike coming from a side alley almost hit me while I was crossing the street (I couldn’t possibly have seen it coming from behind a building).
I have seen this kind of behaviour many times, and I also witnessed minor accidents. I think it should be common sense that bikes and pedestrians cannot share the same space. Especially children and elder people are at risk. Unfortunately, very few people in Taipei seem aware of this, and they ride their bikes carelessly.
It turns out that walking in Taipei has become increasingly unpleasant and dangerous. Given that traffic regulations are often ignored and very selectively enforced, I am not surprised. Even policemen don’t seem to care. Just a couple of days ago I was trying to cross Gongyuan Road at a zebra crossing. Cars and scooters simply wouldn’t stop, although a policeman was there. And he simply ignored us pedestrians.
Cars and scooters dominate Taipei. Bicycle paths do exist, but only in a few areas. Launching YouBike without first building an extensive network of bicycle paths was quite irresponsible. Pedestrians and bikes cannot possibly share the sidewalks, it is simply too messy and dangerous. According to the Taipei Times, “the number of bicycles as a proportion of the city’s traffic has increased by 25 percent since 2011, creating safety concerns as legal and policy structures try to catch up“.
However, the focus of the government doesn’t seem to lie on the necessary infrastructures and the enforcement of traffic regulations, but just on the need to provide insurance for the riders. The recent case of a 21-year-old girl who fell from a YouBike while riding at a riverside park in New Taipei City and died a few days later of brain hemorrhage sparked an overdue debate over whether the government should require cyclists to purchase insurance.
With or without insurance, a city such as Taipei, where traffic is already chaotic and dangerous, needs proper infrastructure and more public awareness, if it wants its ambitious bike sharing project to improve rather than harm the quality of life in the city.