Daily Archives: July 30, 2011

Bicycling was a wash in Seoul

SEOUL — I had hoped to get in a bike ride along the Han River during a week in the South Korean capital for the wedding party of son Matt and wife You Kyoung. But it was a wash — literally.

Flooding on the Han River in Seoul. Photo by the South Korean news agency Yonhap.

Nearly a week of torrential, almost non-stop rain over the Korean peninsula caused horrendous flooding and massive mud slides. Much of the riverside park space and sections of the bike trails were inundated.
The bicycle trails are a part of an effort by Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon to persuade more Koreans to ride bicycles in this vibrant, high-tech megacity. This low-tech means of transport ties in with the nation’s green growth strategy, which also includes solar and wind power, hybrid gas-electric cars and buses powered by compressed natural gas.
Only about 1.6 percent of Seoul’s commuters use bicycles, partly due to a lack of dedicated paths. That compares with nearly 40 percent using bikes to get to work in Amsterdam, the world’s most bike-friendly city, and about 6.4 percent for Portland, Ore., which boasts the highest percentage of bike commuters in the United States.

Cars inundated by flood waters in Seoul. Photo by South Korean news agency Yonhap.

Seoul’s municipal government announced plans on Oct. 22, 2008, to build 207 kilometers (129 miles) of cycle paths over the next four years.
The aim is to increase the number of Seoul’s bike commuters to 4.4 percent of the populace in 2012, 7.6 percent in 2016 and 10 percent in 2020.
On Sept. 17, 2009, the city announced plans to introduce a bicycle-rental program modeled on the Velib system in Paris — on a much larger scale.

A bike share station outside the headquarters of the Korean Broadcasting System in Seoul

The sheer size of the Seoul, the fifth-largest city in the world, might be a bit off-putting for anyone daring to venture out on two wheels.
With a population of more than 10 million, Seoul is bigger than New York, and it’s the center of the world’s second-largest metropolitan area with more than 24.5 million inhabitants. Only greater Tokyo is larger.
Because Seoul has a surface area about six times that of Paris, the Koreans plan to integrate the bike paths and rental stations with bus and subway routes to accommodate longer commutes.
The idea is to make bicycle paths only a part of a worker’s commuting route. Bikes could be carried on buses and subway cars or rented at bus and subway stations and returned to any rental station in the city.
The paths would reach into all corners of the sprawling city. Bike parks, fitted out with shower rooms and lockers, would be placed at 16 subway stations so Seoulites could use both bicycles and public transit to get to work. In some cases, the number of lanes for motor vehicles on major roads would be cut to create new cycle paths.
Major segments of the current network of bike paths criss-crossing Seoul are those on either side of the Han River, which flows east to west through the city and empties into the Yellow Sea, the West Sea to Koreans.

A poster offering a bicycle tour along the DMZ, the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas

The bike path on the south side of the river starts upstream around Gwangnaru area on the east side of the metropolis and runs 41.4 kilometers (25.72 miles) to Gangseo Wetland Park near the mouth of the Han River. The bike path on the northern side of the river starts at Gwangjin Bridge on the east and runs 39.3 kilometers (24.4 miles) downstream to Nanji Han River Park. Bicycles can be rented at various places along the riverside near subway stops.
That was my plan — to ride along the Han River as far as time allowed. But it will have to wait until our next visit.



Filed under Travels, Urban cycling