Oh yes, my friends. I’ve reached post number seven-hundred, and I could write about so many things. I could write about my new superpowers. I could write about thw two Korean movies I’ve seen in the last week. (Or is it three?) I could write about the inflatable stick-plastic ball in my flat that is going to help me rehabilitate my back. I could write about the Greg Egan book I am reading, or my plans for the week. Or about the talk I had with my friend Heather today, or the taste of Irish whiskey I had last night. Or the sound of the miserable dogs in the streets near my flat, which sound like the hounds of hell when they call out at 1am. Or the tribulations of a band that suddenly finds itself short of both songs and time.
But no, what I have cued up is a rant. It’s a rant about a road and an attitude that underlies it.
The road leads from my neighborhood to my workplace. The sole purpose of the road is to allow thousands of people everyday to get to educational institutions such as the university where I work, and a gaggle of high schools that surround it. Let me reiterate, the road exists for the traversal of thousands of people per day.
Which is why it’s one-lane each way, ending in a bridge with a slow traffic light on the far end.
This is why a ten minute bicycle ride takes an hourand I am neither exaggerating nor kiddingtoday it took a full hour to get from school to my apartment, just on the far side of the bridge. An HOUR.
Needless to say, someone who rants about this kind of thing regularly will become bitter soon enough. That’s not my plan, and I have concocted a coping strategy which will only benefit me in the long run: I am going to cycle to work, which will let my bypass all the automotive suckers who spend an hour a night stuck in the insanity which is the traffic on that road.
Joy to me. But I am not finished.
The problem is, not everyone can cycle on this road. Many people live more than a ten-minute bicycle ride from school, and many people must take the bus. There will always be thousands of vehicles on that road every weekday at around the same time. And every weekday at around the same time, the road will be locked, at least the outgoing traffic will be.
And what’s happening to fix this problem? As far as I can tell, what’s being done is not solution work, but work that reinforces the problem. There are development projects all over the area that now stands as rice fields between my neighborhood and my workplace. Sure, within a year or two, many more people will live in that area, meaning hundreds more cars will have to pass out of the area.
And the road remains one lane each way. And the sides are more and more often crowded by properties, buildings, ditches.
Once I told a civic engineer I knew that one of the architectural problems of the Korean transit system was that it didn’t truly account for cyclists. Many people cycle here, but do you know what passes for a bicycle path here? Red-colored sidewalk. When I told the engineer that this was inefficient, he disagreed. On what grounds, I asked, and he told me, quite simply: “Because the red sidewalk is a bicycle path.”
“But,” I responded, “there are always people walking around on it, sometimes even crowded onto it. You have to swerve dangerously sometimes to get down onto the street; and people can put up any obsctruction they like, with impunity.” (Okay, it was phrased differently, but…)
“But it is a bicycle path,” he insisted.
“No, it’s not.” I was serious by this point: “It’s a red-colored sidewalk.”
“But red-colored sidewalk is a bicycle path.”
“It’s not treated as one! It doesn’t function as one!” I replied, but I knew I wouldn’t get through to him. For this young man, the definition was everything. If I call it a work of art, it’s a work of art, even if what you see is just a toilet plunger with tinsel glued onto it. It’s labeled, therefore it is.
Last night, I nearly slammed into a banner stretched between two trees on the “bicycle path” that leads from my home to E-Mart. I didn’t notice it right away, but there it was, a trap on the ostensible “bicycle path”.
Similarly, it seems to me, the “road to the university” is adequate because someone out there thinks it is adequate. If you bring up something like the fact that the whole thing is bottlenecked so badly it takes an hour to pass over the same distance that a bike can travel in 10 minutes, you meet a defense so weak it’s useless: “But it’s the road we have.” Meaning: the city isn’t gonna replace it. The city isn’t even gonna note the problem and ensure that roads throughout the new development area ought to be wider to facilitate easier movement into and through the city.
I don’t know whether it’s just older engineers, or younger engineers, or Korean engineers, but whosoever is making the crucial decisions about roads, sidewalks, bicycle transport, he or she is not doing such a good job.
On the bright side, cycling is good. I finally got to OK Bakery, as well as E-Mart, and found my way home as well! In one piece.
For now. Check in with me tomorrow.