Bicycle Promotion Gone Wrong

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:

Korea Strava BIcycle Map

(Source: Strava Heat Map)

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)

Links to the Competition: Rules of Competition | Winner Announcement

About This Author

Co-Author of Kojects. Interested in Sustainable Transportation, Urbanism and Korea.


You can post comments in this post.

  • The lists immediately strike me as a bit… dare I say, materialistic. Or at the least, focused on getting more people into new R&D jobs over getting more people cycling to their current jobs. It’s as if the winners were chosen for perceived export potential, or for how closely they mesh with the president’s constant talks of fostering innovation. Stands in contrast to the gazetted goal of promotion.

    I’d most certainly agree with your comments on the student winners: I also like those ideas more than the adult category winners, and they blow the helmet out of the water. Then again, who knows, that helmet might turn into a must-have fashion accessory, in which case, safety be damned, it’ll get more cyclists on the road.

    Regardless, I’m very glad to see the government actively working towards a goal of more bikes on the road.

    Anon 3 years ago Reply

  • I am with you on the liking of the youngsters’ ideas more…I’m curious as to who was on the panel for making the judgment for the winners! I have to agree with Anon that the proposals are a bit materialistic, as they don’t seem to target any sort of behavioural changes.

    It’s like losing a needle in a hay stack…and relentlessly using a magnifying glass to look for the needle. I mean there must be other ways to find that needle, you know??

    So much of it is political too which partially takes away from the actual impact/effectiveness of these campaigns. I am glad that the government is investing in cycling and cycling infrastructure, I just hope that they know what they’re doing- who they’re targeting, how to target their audience…etc.!

    Meow 3 years ago Reply

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