From our archives, Compass Magazine, May 2000.
As with most foreigners in Taiwan, one of the few complaints I have is with the traffic and the pollution.
In what has become a developed country, the complete lack of facilities here for the pedestrian or the bicyclist is stunning. In the race for development, cities around the island have grown to where walking or taking a relaxed bike ride isn’t easy. That is precisely why inorbitt.com was formed, to create publicity for an alternative to the dangerous, noisy and polluting car-based transport system–bikes and public transport.
For most people the car has become one of life’s essentials, to the point where they do not believe that it is possible to live without it. Unfortunately, most people also do not see how it could be harmful driving a car. The car is naturally a great convenience–private and comfortable–and it is only when it is multiplied by the millions in cities where people live that the problems begin.
In China two pedestrians die each day on the roads. If you don’t believe that cars here kill, ask your friends here how many people they know that have died or been injured in road accidents. Health-wise, doctors estimate the chances of contracting cancer for those living near a busy road are greatly increased. Doctors also recommend daily exercise, something that you get with a bike. Environmentally, scientists believe emissions of Co2 gases contribute to the greenhouse effect that is destroying our world and transport systems like cars account for almost 70% of all emissions.
If these are not reason enough for change, try to imagine the alternative. Let’s take a ride into the not-too-distant future together. Listen–it’s so quiet that you can hear the kids playing on the wide-open pedestrianized areas of Taichung. Along Taichung Harbor Road, the tram flies along, carrying you at speed to Sogo Department Store from Tunghai University where we get off with folding bike in hand.
We ride along one of the cycle lanes that lead off in all directions. Outdoor cafes and stalls have sprung up all along Meitsun Road, where once there were parked cars–the extra space saved have been converted into parks and recreation space so sorely missed in the city. Now people seem to have more time, as things move slower. A community spirit has begun to grow. The remarkable thing is that transportation times around the city have improved as road congestion has disappeared.
This is a utopian vision and it is not just around the corner, but there are things that you can do now to stop polluting the earth and bring it a step closer. First, get a bike. Taiwan being the center of the world’s bike industry makes it the cheapest place in the world to buy one. Use it for the short distances, like when going to the corner shop. As you get more comfortable on the bike, you can go further. It’s no just for the young, either. My parents–in their late sixties–still bike everywhere. If you need help up the few hills in Taichung, get an electric bike.
The great thing about a bike is that it also makes great recreation and there are so many great jungle bike trails within half an hour of downtown Taichung to explore that staying fit is unbelievable fun. We have a few good trails documented at www.inorbitt.com. With a bike you can travel, put it into a bike bag (a bag to carry a bike) and all public transport is open for you to use. When you go up to Taipei, you can take along your bike and avoid the expense of taxis. (Inorbitt.com has an equipment section where bike bags and other equipment are displayed for you.)
Inorbitt stages free bike tours around the world and our last one was across China and Tibet to India. This year we plan something shorter, a tour of this beautiful island of ours and its mountains. You can join for an hour or a week–our location will be constantly updated on the inorbitt website.
We go out most weekends on the bikes to explore and, if you want to join us, leave a message on the inorbitt message board and we’ll be in touch. Please remember that, if you do drive a car, the next time you pass a cyclist, give them a wide birth. You’ve already taken away our right to clean air and a peaceful city, so please don’t take away our right to life, too.
Rory McMullan has been living in Taiwan since 1996. As an environmentalist and bike advocate, he has created a web organization www.inorbitt.com to promote sustainable transport in Asia.