As Boulder edges out Portland for the title of North America’s most bike friendly city (in one ranking, anyway), and Amsterdam and Copenhagen jostle for the European cycling crown, we ask ourselves, how do Asia’s cities measure up for getting around on two wheels?
Beijing is the capital of the world’s most cycling-rich country, and still designed for bikes. Its cycling modal share may have dropped from 63% to 17% but could improve again soon – the city government aims to boost it to 23% by 2015. Hangzhou has the world’s largest public bike share scheme, with an incredible 65,000 bikes at 2400 rental stations. And Kunming is appreciated by those that ride there; it has a comfortable pace of life, and plenty of space. Across the water, Kyoto is a functional cycling city with a dash of European style – it’s normal to ride everywhere around town, dressed for the destination, not the vehicle.
Taiwan is on everyone’s cycling radar these days: Taipei has a wonderful network of paths, and the Kaohsiung public bike share scheme is fab. The city has 150 km of tracks and a lot of the back streets are free of road markings, so everyone drives gently and looks out for everyone else. Even in Singapore, the government took the step that Hong Kong first needs to: publicly stating that cycling is transport, and then implementing measures to facilitate it. They’ve been a bit quiet about it recently though.
Melbourne gets rated highly. It’s flat and there’s a modest bike share scheme in the city centre. The 200+ km Around the Bay in a Day event draws the crowds and raises cycling’s profile. But Australia’s mandatory helmets law adds hassle for newcomers. In fun places like Bali or Chiang Mai, cycling is widespread and effective, and certainly friendly, but it’s not quite urban cycling.
One from the back pocket: three years ago, authorities in Seoul announced that the city would increase bicycle use from 1.6 percent to 10 percent by 2020. How are they doing?
What about Pyongyang? The roads are blessedly free of cars (since no one can afford them) and 70% of North Korean households rely on their bikes to get around. Plus, the new, young, just-possibly-normal leader, Kim Jong Un, recently rescinded the 16-year ban on women riding bikes (though it was introduced after the hit-and-run death of the daughter of a prominent general as she cycled in the capital).
And what does Hong Kong have to do to be a contender? The administration’s negligent contribution is a handicap of course. But huge numbers of people cycle anyway, for transport and enjoyment, and both the urban areas and countryside offer huge potential for getting around on two wheels. Shouldn’t enthusiastic and increasing participation count for us, or at least boost our chances for the future? And will the government see the light some time soon?