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.

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3 Comments

Filed under Travels, Urban cycling

3 responses to “Bicycling was a wash in Seoul

  1. what a shame!… Love your passion for cycling – I am also an avid cycling fan. My blog is all about my journeys on the bike.

  2. Joel

    Hi Jim, Just happened upon your blog because I’m a lapsed bicycle tourist who was looking for some inspiration one morning and surfing the web for bike-tour bloggers. Then I was surprised to see you had visited Seoul, where I now live (I’m from New York, another megalopolis). So I read on. I was impressed byyour quick and broad apprehension of cycling conditions in and around Seoul, for I’ve lived here eight years and still didn’t know the length of the Han River paths (though I’ve ridden them, but not end to end). In fact, you moved me to sort of move my butt and try and get back in the saddle, for I’ve all but given up riding since moving here, kind of turned off by all the traffic, But at least things are getting better – not worse – for cycling here, though unfortunately your visit coincided with a terrible time for cycling in Korea – the short rainy season of July/August. Better luck next time.. If you’re ever back in Korea, look me up and we’ll head out for a ride.

    • Joel,
      Many thanks for reading my blog and for your kind words.
      I was very impressed by the immensity of Seoul, even though I’ve been to Tokyo several times, and by the bicycle trails along the Han. My son and his wife, whose wedding party prompted our visit to Seoul, had planned a day of cycling along the river, but the rains interfered. My son and his wife, by the way, live in New York and were married there in January. The party in Seoul was an opportunity for the Korean and American sides of the family to get together and for many of the newlyweds’ friends in Asia, who had not been able to get to New York for the wedding and subsequent party there, to help join the celebration.
      Happy trails and safe cycling in Seoul.
      Jim

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