This is a guest post by Max Neupert. He is an artist and academic who is interested in contemporary social and technological issues. He is a German citizen who has lived in Canada, Australia, Croatia, Bulgaria and is now based in Daegu, Korea. Max is member of ExtraEnergy, a non-profit consumer organisation for sustainable transportation with a focus on Light Electric Vehicles and electric assisted bicycles. Max is professor in the School of Fine Arts at Yeungnam University in Gyeongsan. You can reach him on Twitter @bauchhaus.
Views expressed are his own.
Part 1: Traffic safety and the education of the future motorist
Sejong Road is Seoul’s version of a main boulevard. It is connecting the impressive Namdaemun gate with the palace. On the way it passes town hall, opera, Korea’s state owned telecom headquarters and finally the embassy of the United States of America. It is also a six lane highway. Six lanes in each directions that is. During the summer months the city closes the northern part of that promenade about every second Sunday. Each car free day features a different theme, from picnic on the Astroturf covered asphalt to artisan flea markets.
September 21st at Seoul’s car free Sunday, coinciding with the UN climate summit and the People’s Climate March in New York City, many eco-conscious companies and initiatives had set up their booths along the street. They showcased their products for curious citizens and tourists alike. Solar panels for the Korean apartment, water purifiers and cute home decorations.
Hyundai Motors took the occasion to come with a huge truck and operated a mini car circuit for kids. Yes, you heard that right. A car company thinks it’s appropriate to use the car-free day to promote to future customers.
It is worse then that. Parents and their children (mostly boys actually) were lining up to let their juniors drive around in miniature EQUUS limousines. In the context of a car-free street and on the occasion of the eco-themed event for families, Hyundai’s marketing could not have been more cynical. Clearly the boys had fun. Unlike the oversized gas guzzling CEO limousines their tiny toy counterparts were driven by electricity. The kids drove them around the short circuit happily.
Next to the car driving experience, a bicycle course for children was set-up. Enjoying a safe bicycle ride on the car free day makes much more sense.
On closer inspection, I realized that it worked differently. The kids were “riding” the bikes in a confined area of approximately 8 by 8 meters. The course started with the fitting of helmets. After riding not more ten 3 m, the kids had to stop. A guard with a red little flag was making them to halt at an imaginary intersection. After biking another 2 m the kids then had to get off their bikes again to walk it over a rubber carpet which had white stripes on it – presumably a simulation of a cross walk. Afterwards a fabulous 5 m remained to complete the course until it’s end. All in all, bicycling was reinforced in the kids minds as an annoying experience of hassle and harassment. Patronized by rules and overzealous “educators”. Remember: right next to it the boys enjoyed an almost unrestrained drive on a circuit without intersections or pedestrian crossings. Provided by Hyundai.
What does it tell us? We teach our kids that they should strive to become CEOs so that they can drive black limousines and ride with privileges. In fact that is a real issue on Korean roads that hierarchical order in the society with the rich, CEO, elder, male on top is being transferred to traffic and seem to stand above law. Women in cheap small cars, cyclists and pedestrians being at the bottom of the hierarchy and thus have to give way to those black limousines of older affluent men.
In the second part of the post I will describe what could be done to improve the situation and I will shine light on who was behind the bicycle circuit with questionable objectives.