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Politics, open government, and safe streets. And the constant incursion of cycling.

Tag: Taiwan

Taiwan Cycling Festival: Cycling Infrastructure Improvements in Taitung and Hualien

[This is intended as a companion piece to this post about the kickoff of the 2010 Taiwan Cycling Festival]

Taiwan’s Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) are in the midst of expending a 4-year (2009 to 2012) US$25 million budget for the “Bicycle Network Demonstration of the Eastern Region” project.  These projects are designed, in the words of the MOTC, to:

[E]stablish a bicycle network in the eastern region and to implement the seamless integration of the railway-bicycle combination transits to connect scenic, recreational, ecological and cultural sites as part of the blueprint for the bicycle network in the eastern region.

To this end, the MOTC – in cooperation with other federal agencies and the local Hualien and Taitung governments – have already completed a number of cycling infrastructure improvements.

Bicycle Facilities Construction and Improvements

The MOTC have have aimed their efforts at making the Hualien-Taitung bicycle routes a “bicycle riding paradise.”  In 2009, a total of 174 km of paths or on-road facilities were constructed or improved (including the introduction of of slow lanes within the provincial highway system to integrate bicycle lanes).  This resulted in a regional of total of 578 km of networked roads that incorporated cycling facilities.  According to the MOTC, 2010  will be 250 km of bicycle paths and, with assistance from local governments, another 89 km of on-road improvements.  By the end of 2010, there should be a total 917 km of cycling facilities/improvements in the region.  These include improvements on the existing routes of Provincial Highways No. 2, No. 9, No. 8, No. 9C, No. 7, No. 7C, and other minor connecting roads.

Bicycle Facilities Design Guidelines

To ensure that all this work results in a safe and useable bicycle network, the “Bicycle Path System Plan Reference Manual (2st Ed.)” has been completed, and is available here (in Mandarin).  In addition, a safety manual aimed at riders – the “Bicycle Riding Safety Manual” –  is available for download.  While I’ve been told that an English-language version of the linked site is forthcoming, I’m not sure that English-language editions of either of these publications are planned.

Hualien’s Bicycle-on-Bus Service

In 2009, Hualien implemented a bike-on-bus project, providing racks on the front of its municipal buses. I’m unclear as to whether the rollout was limited to particular routes (I suspect it was).  They appear to be your standard quick on/off racks found in many countries.

Railway Integration

The Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) is integrating bicycling into its regional services, with the goal of carrying people and their bicycles in the same railcar.  Initiatives include:
  • Bicycle Carriage Transformation:  The TRA plans for modifications of 45 cars of the Chu-Guang Express and 32 cars of the PP Tze-Chiang Express to transport people with bicycles.  After modifications, each car will have bike racks and passenger seating.  Some of the removed old units will be recycled into bicycle service stations.  There are future plans for special train reservations for which bicycle enthusiasts may apply.  The TRA has also announced that preliminary prices will entail reduced fares, with each bicycle receiving a 50% discount from the regular fair.
  • Bicycle Depot Setup:  The plan is to provide 16 bicycle depots along the eastern region with services such as bicycle rental, rest areas, restrooms, bicycle maintenance and cleaning, food courts and other resources.  In conjunction with the “2010 Taiwan Bike Day” activities, the TRA set up 5 stations in Sincheng, Shoufong, Rueisuei, Yuli and Taitung.  This brings the total to 8 stations currently in operation.  One goal of these additional stations is to allow for one-way bicycle rentals.
  • Station Access: the TRA plans to provide overpass and underpass walkways, with room enough on both sides to carry bicycles from the railcar to the station exit.
  • Passenger Information: the TRA’s website will provide schedules and search systems for its railway-bicycle services.

As it stands, information about the status of these services is not available via the English language version of the TRA site (which leaves much to be desired, in general). I’d strongly advise calling them to book and confirm services well-ahead of time.

Public Information Efforts

The “MOTC Eastern Region Bicycle Information” website is intended to provide cycling enthusiasts traveling to the eastern region to check on traffic, travel and accommodation information.  I’ve found that – via the magic of Google Translate – the site is somewhat useable for English-language users.  I’ve been told that an English language version is forthcoming.  Also, for Mandarin-reading users of the Windows Mobile 6.1 platform, there’s a pretty nifty app providing all this info, available for download.  Or so I’m told.

Note: I always welcome corrections, but I welcome them especially so to this piece.  The information above was based on my own observations, supplemented by information provided by the MOTC.  Despite that, I’ve likely got a detail wrong or plans have already changed.  If you have information that can help improve this piece, I’d quite appreciate it.

Bus Rack Photo credit: Ministry of Transportation and Communications

Taiwan Cycling Festival: Taipei to Taitung

One of my favorite quotes involving travel comes from William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, describing a character who has just arrived in London, after a transatlantic flight:

“Her mortal soul is leagues behind her, being reeled in on some ghostly umbilical down the vanished wake of the plane that brought her here.  Souls can’t move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage.”

For me, this is the perfect way to to describe that empty and displaced feeling I get when I’ve just made a long flight, feeling very much out of my own time and space.  Usually alone, often at night, and frequently in a city new to me, I just go for a walk.  There’s never a particular plan to it.  Just a wander around, trying to absorb the general sense of a place.

So that’s what I did when, having arrived late at night in Taipei and checked into the Howard, I found myself with the energy to move.  I did this despite the fact that I’d not slept a bit on the plane, and – in a first for me – found I’d have some company on this walk.  Niamh and Mark, also in Taiwan for the Cycling Festival, found themselves a bit restless, too.  So off we went.  And this is what we found:

It would be foolish, indeed, to think you know a city through a single late night walk.  But it does start to sketch a map of sorts.  Not just ordinal, but of expectations.   Some things you get wrong – I’d soon learn that all those wide bike lanes were going to be filled with buzzing scooters in the morning, with barely a bike to be seen.  But others turn out quite right – I felt incredibly safe, and there was an easiness to the people around me.  That’s a theme that – while not particularly related to the purpose of my trip – certainly helped me focus on that purpose.  Taiwan, despite the challenges of language (and weather), turned out to be a rather easy place.

What is rarely easy, in any place 12 time zones away from your own, is getting yourself keyed into the local rhythms.  So it was with no small amount of effort that I hauled myself out of bed early the next morning for a second look at Taipei, this time in daylight:

Click here for same slideshow, but bigger and with captions.

After a lovely breakfast, it was off for a bit of quick sight-seeing before heading to the airport for a flight to Taitung (TTT).  This included a stop at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (国立中正纪念堂):

I suppose that now is as good a time as any to introduce the cast.  From left to right: Niamh (of Adventures Abroad), John (our guide/magician/miracle worker), Kate (of GlobalSoulAdventures), Mark (of Bikehugger.com), and Beverly (of Beverly Garrity Design).  You’ll be seeing more of them later.  For now, this is their best side.

Other reasons to check out the CKS Memorial:

and

and

It’s an interesting memorial, and undoubtedly could have been the kick-off of many an interesting political discussion (I find Taiwan’s political landscape fascinating, despite possessing just a glancing understanding of it), but this was not to be that kind of trip.  Rather, it would be the kind of trip where we found things like this hilarious:

Yes, that’s a robot construction flag waver, and for the remainder of the trip, it never failed to excite and make us laugh.  What can I say?  We’re a simple people.

On the way to the airport, we saw an advertisement for one of the most useful pieces of Taiwan’s new push for improved cycletouring infrastructure – bike cars on trains:

To get to Taitung (TTT), however, we flew on Uni Air.  We departed from Taipei’s domestic airport, Songshan (TSA).  For domestic travel, this is far more convenient to downtown Taipei than TPE.  The flight was short and uneventful, taking us from this:

to this:

Well, except for one thing.  This fellow sat directly behind us:

I found it hilarious, though my seatmate was less sanguine.  Alas, we all got along just fine, and now I’m sitting comfortably at home.  And that fellow probably isn’t.  And we were off!

Taitung County (the county/state/province surrounding Taitung, the city) was completely different than Taipei.  Green, spacious, green, gorgeous, and green, we’d clearly arrived in a very different part of Taiwan, despite the sub-60 minute flight.  From there, we headed north for another bit of tourism – an aboriginal demonstration site that offered traditional rafting.  A picture of tranquility, I think:

And it looks simple enough:

So off we went, anticipating a bit of lazy time on the water:

Just look that.  Beautiful, no?

Well.  Just to the right of this photo?  Is the rock I decided to land on, and make an ironic colonial claim.  Joke was on me, though, as the rock tossed me off, camera in pocket, for a swim in the water.  Which was really quite pleasant, until I’d been treading water for a minute or so and realized that the camera was, in fact, in pocket.  So I’m a little short of photos for this day, after this.  We ended up at the Hotel Royal Chihpen, where I obtained a magic bag of rice that made much of what follows possible . . .

Tomorrow: The 2010 Taiwan Cycling Festival kicks off!  Also: Taitung International Triathlon, with a guest appearance from the Taiwan Air Force.

This One Time, in Taiwan . . .

Taroko Gorge

That I’ve been utterly unable to stick to my plan to post daily about Taiwan isn’t just a testament to my ever present ability to overestimate myself, but also to the incredible amount of things we were able to see and do in Taiwan. I’m now in an LAX hotel (this would be hotel #14 in 15 days for me, I believe) and just beginning to sort out a plan for relaying what turned out to be one of the most incredible trips I’ve ever undertaken. From cycling through the natural beauty of Taroko Gorge to seeing the human faces behind the cycling industry, Taiwan blew right past my expectations. Stick around, if you’re interested in hearing more about it.

(click to enlarge photo)

Off to the 2010 Taiwan Cycling Festival

Today involved the first leg of my ~8,000 mile trip from home in DC to Taipei, Taiwan for the 2010 Taiwan Cycling Festival. What is that, exactly? Err, I’ll find out the details when I get there.  Taiwan is trying to promote itself as a cycling destination, and is hoping to use this event to showcase what it’s got. And, courtesy of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, I’ll be giving you my take on the reality of that effort. I’ve been lucky enough to get around a bit, so I’m hoping that my well-considered take – which will be posted here over the next couple of weeks – will be useful to those thinking of trying Taiwan for a cycling trip.

That trip, however, comes with a pretty steep initial cost for Americans. Nevermind the actual ticket cost, I’m talking about the 14 hour trip from LAX (can’t be much shorter from SEA or other northern US departure points) to Taipei (TPE). At 6’1″, and recalling my 14 hour LAX-SYD flight last year, I’m dreading it already. I did a 16 hour flight from Newark to Hong Kong some years back, and it was miserable. That said, Hong Kong turned out to be one of the most amazing places I’ve seen on this planet, and was absolutely worth those 16 hours. So while the price can be steep, it’s quite possibly worth it. We’ll see.

Great Circle route for LAX to TPE

Because I had zero interest in tying on the five hour flight from DC to LA into the LAX-TPE flight on the same day (for 19 straight hours of fun!), I decided to skip out to LA a day ahead of time. My favorite local airport, National, doesn’t do much in the way of direct flights to LAX, so I had to head out to the airport I often mock – Dulles (IAD).  It turns out that I might have to ease back a bit on knocking it.  In fact, it came off as a perfectly nice airport – one that might even eventually live up to the promise of its Saarinen-designed ticketing terminal.

Ticketing Terminal at IAD

First off, the moon buggies are mostly gone. In its place is a much improved security hall and rail transport to the terminals. And much to my pleasant surprise, Vino Volo, previously accessible only on int’l flights, now has a (much bigger) location at Terminal B. Like ATL’s One Flew South, it’s a great wine bar with good food. Much better than the usual regret-inducing airport fare.

Vino Volo at IAD's Terminal B

The departure from my airport of choice also involved a departure from my airline of choice (Delta).  This flight was on American, and since (in yet another departure from the norm) I’m actually checking a bag this trip (hard to pack clothing, cycling shoes/pedals, and a helmet in carry-on, it turns out), I experienced the joy of getting nickled ($25 for checked bag) and dimed ($39 for an aisle seat up front).  (Too many parentheticals?)  I don’t so much mind the total cost as the pettiness of dinging me for what I’ve come to expect as basics.   We’ll just avoid the matter of food entirely.  Personal thanks, though, to the flight attendant who took mercy on me and doubled my vodka tonic.

So I’m at the LAX Hilton now.  Did you know you can snag pretty much any of the standard airport hotels (Marriott, Hilton, Crowne Plaza) for ~$65/night on Priceline?  I used to mock a friend mercilessly for using them (and I still mostly avoid them), but that’s a regular and reliable halving of the price anywhere else.  I’m trying to sort out a few more last minute things before I head off to uncertain connectivity, and then get a good night’s sleep ahead of what I’m sure will be something less than that.

But I’m really really looking forward to actually being in Taiwan.

Still Looking For Taiwan Travel Tips

As I mentioned, I’m heading off on a rather unplanned trip to Taiwan next week, to check it out as a cycling destination. I suppose the unplanned modifier is really unnecessary in my case – the only trip I’ve *really* planned for in the past few years was to hike Machu Picchu, and that was so derailed by the birth of my nephew that we ended up in Prague, instead (did I just blame a small child for my poor judgement? Yes. Yes I did. It’s not like he can argue with me.). In any event, I’ve done what I do for any trip – I bought another Lonely Planet guide, and have started surfing the web.  I feel like I’m coming up a little short.

On one hand, the web’s already been good to me – Taiwan resident Michael Turton (who found me, out of the blue) has quite graciously helped me assess my itinerary, and the author of Taiwan in Cycles has solicited his readers to make sure I “get to see what [I] really should be seeing.”

On the other, well, that language barrier is significant.  There’s a *ton* of Taiwan cycling info out there – and it’s all in Mandarin.  Believe me, I’m doing my best to get the basics down before I arrive.  But I couldn’t possibly gather up enough in time to sort out a trip with it.

There are some decent English-language resources – like the Tourism Bureau’s “Let’s Go Cycling in Taiwan” site.  It describes cyclo-tourism routes (with Google maps – a serious plus), gives contact information for local resources, and appears to hit the high points.  But I don’t see the sort of individual feedback that I think really adds value.   For the folks looking for racing in Taiwan, Craig Johns’ Taiwan Racing seems to be the place to go.

There are plenty of English-language blogs to mine for info.  Swanky Frankie’s journey (complete with daily music tracks!), the Hungry Cyclist’s search for the perfect meal, and sites with a wider focus that briefly turn to Taiwan (yet produce useful stuff like telling you about “Ni you pijiu ma? You pronounce it: ni yo pee jyo ma? It means ‘do you sell beer?’.”).

But with all that, I’ve yet to discover a good site centralizing the basics – where, how, and how much.  Which is fine enough for me – things are tastier when I have to work for them, instead of picking them off a platter.  Can’t say that I’d turn down an assist, though.

Then again, sometimes you don’t need words at all.  Check out Ewa Kamila‘s video of her solo tour across Taiwan (including the brief unpleasantry  at 1:30):

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