The Ministry of Public Administration and Security* hold an idea contest for bicycle promotion and enhancement of safety for cyclists in Korea at the end of last year. It was advertised on Seoul’s subway and on various government homepages. 1500 entries about bicycle promotion in Korea, divided into two age groups (school students and adults), were submitted. I’ve thought about participating but I couldn’t find the time to write something. Still, I was very curious about the outcome. When I saw the winning entries, I was somehow disappointed and it was totally different from what I have expected. Or lets’s say it was totally different than what the majority of urban cycling advocates promote.
There are severe road safety issues in Korea and the most vulnerable groups are cyclists and pedestrians. The two-part guest post by Max (here links to part 1 and part 2) explained the issues. Until 2020 Korea wants to have a modal split of 10% for cycling. The modal split is since over a decade somewhere between 1 and 2%. Seoul is about to give a huge boost to cycling by building a bicycle network with street-level bicycle lanes but other cities aren’t very active in this area (except maybe for public bike-sharing systems). So there’s a clear need for new ideas and alternative concepts.
The Winning Entries
Let’s take a look at the winning entries. First the grand prize, which received 1 million KRW:
Development of a smart helmet that has functions such as a personal information-embedded QR-code, LED lights, camera and so on.
A helmet… The government ministry chose the suggestion about helmets as the best idea. Cases from around the world showed that helmets are very counterproductive and that compulsory helmet laws lower the usage of bicycles. I know that the idea doesn’t talk about compulsory helmets but still it is closely related and too often the focus is only on helmets. Sometimes the helmet gives falsely the feeling of safety and so people on bikes take more risks. It was already proven that compulsory bicycle helmets provide little benefits. A great overview of this discussion provides this website.
Nobody is going to ride more often because their helmet speaks to them like K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider. The only real smart helmet is Hövding, the invisible bicycle helmet. Cycling to school, work or the next bus subway station should be safe enough, so that people don’t feel the need it. I believe that this is mainly achievable through a safe infrastructure and law enforcement. A continuous, well-developed network of bicycle paths has to exist and police has to keep cars away from them (and in the best case also away from the sidewalks).
The three main prize winner (each received 500,000 KRW) were:
(1) Designing a bicycle parking rack with anti-theft functions where both tires and the frame are locked to the bike rack.
(2) Development of a smartphone app, which helps to register your bicycle or report it missing. The data also collects GPS data and other statistics in order to help policy makers.
(3) Reflective marking material for bicycle paths for safe cycling in the dark.
The first idea had probably also a design but it wasn’t published in the final announcement. I don’t believe that the majority of people don’t cycle because they are afraid of getting their bikes stolen. Or? The second idea is nice and private companies (such as Strava) sell data about cycling:
Such data can give a lot of information about where people cycle and where not! Regarding the third main winner, I would also like to see rumble strips or physical barriers between bike lanes and car lanes in combination to such reflective marking. People who cycle at night is just a small niche.
Bicycle Promotion Ideas by Youngsters
There was a separate category for school students. Nobody received a grand prize but there have been three main prizes:
(1) Better management of bicycle parking facilities through bigger facilities and a janitor (person with disability or elderly as part of a welfare program) who keeps an eye on the bikes and the facility.
(2) Development of a self-charging bicycle or charging backpack for electric bicycles.
(3) A volunteer program which gives safety instructions or prepares safety campaigns in order to improve the safety of cyclists.
Somehow I like the ideas from youngsters more than the other ones. The second idea could be replaced by recharging functions at bike racks. Education and correct behavior is very important and it should focus on all traffic participants.
Of course, the competition preferred concepts that improve the safety of cyclists because it was organized by the ministry that is responsible for safety. However, even the ones related to safety are more about theft prevention or safety of the bicycle than of the person who rides the bicycle (as in the first and second main prize winner among the adults and the first one by school students). The choice shows what kind of development the policy-makers prefer and in my opinion, it goes in a wrong direction. Second, it also shows that no entry finds a way to promote daily usage of cycling. That is a really tough task for Korea but it is necessary due to increasing energy costs, lack of space and a need for a people-centered development.
(*now changed to Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs)