Many Seoulites flock to the Han River in the summer months for a diversity of activities. A fun activity is cycling on the bike paths. But conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians occur often because people walk on the bicycle path or cyclists pass people with a high speed. Sadly, accidents between pedestrians and cyclists in Korea isn’t uncommon.
Cyclists don’t only feel that pedestrians ignore them but also the law by walking on the bicycle path. Laws can be a way to regulate traffic and safety on the trails. For example, the laws regarding bicycle-only lanes says that this trail type is only for cyclists. Do you know how long the network of bicycle-only lanes along the Han River is?
It’s 0 km.
No Han River Bicycle-Only Lanes
Yes, there are no exclusive bicycle lanes at the Han River. All Hangang river paths are shared between cyclists AND pedestrians. Probably the majority of people doesn’t know that and many don’t understand why. The simple reason is that the national government designates paths as bicycle-only lanes and the government never selected the Han River trails as exclusive bicycle lanes.
Officially the paths on the Han River are shared trails. The paths are divided into bicycle lane and pedestrian lane. On certain sections there is a physical separation. Each traffic participant has to stick to their lane but a shared trail doesn’t clearly forbid them of entering the other lanes.
Contributing to the confusion play the following factors: design of the Han River trails, official bicycle map, road markings and signs along the path.
Confusing Elements of the Trails
The majority of river trails actually resembles a shared path. For example, the next picture shows a bicycle lane between walking paths:
Often the road is divided into three lanes: two for cyclists and one for pedestrians, only separated by street marking.
The design above clearly shows a shared path. However, there are some sections with a physical separation:
It’s a shared path as well. Cyclists have to be careful of crossing pedestrians. The design of the whole trail system plays a part in the misunderstanding.
Even the Seoul Metropolitan Government doesn’t seem to know the truth about the bicycle trails: The description of the official bicycle map (left picture) says that the red lines are bicycle-only lanes (자전거 전용도로) and the green lines are trails shared between cyclists and pedestrians (자전거보행자 겸용도로). The red lines in the map are along the major streams and rivers. Here you can see the bicycle map of Seoul with the bicycle-only lanes:
Seoul said that they will correct the mistake in the next version of the map and show the Han river bike trails as shared trails in green.
Until a couple of years ago many bike trails had pedestrian road markings. But these markings were removed.
I clearly remember that I sometimes saw signs on the paths. I checked Daum’s streetview and I discovered this sign:
I came across them in several places. Personally, I would interpret them as a bicycle-only signs. I couldn’t find the official meaning of this particular sign. Many pages as well as the Korean Wikipedia say that this sign means bicycle-only lane. However, trustful pages such as the Korean police website and Road Traffic Authority KoRoad don’t list this traffic sign at all.
The official sign for exclusive bicycle lanes are these two on the left. Both of them show a bicycle and the Korean expression for exclusive for bicycles. Regarding the sign in the picture above, I really can’t confirm whether it’s an official street sign or not.
Another problem regarding signs is that there are many pedestrian crossings over the bicycle paths. They are always accompanied by official pedestrian crossing signs. Pedestrians and cyclists in Seoul will think that pedestrians aren’t allowed on the bike paths and that they are only allowed to cross the bike paths on these crossings. But actually by law, cyclists aren’t the only traffic participants to use the bicycle lane and cyclists have to watch out for pedestrians.
What does it mean?
On the blog about Korean Law KLAWGURU there was a post discussing the case of an accident involving a pedestrian and cyclist at the Han River. The cyclist was partially wrong and had to pay 40% of the demanded compensation. So the non-existence of exclusive bicycle lanes means that a cyclist doesn’t have priority along the Han River trails. Thus, for cyclists it is really important to know that they always have to be able to avoid pedestrians or stop in the case of an incident on the bicycle lane. Again, there is no exclusive trail for cyclists along the Han river.
Even though bicycle-only lanes don’t exist by law, I think that pedestrians should avoid to walk on the bike paths and be really careful while crossing the bicycle lane. It’s the best for their own safety. Seoul announced that they will revise their bicycle map but why don’t they apply for status change of the trails at the national government or ministry of transport? Bicycle-only lanes probably have to fulfill certain requirements but this shouldn’t be an obstacle. Everybody already believes that the paths are exclusive bicycle lanes, the government just has to designate them as bicycle-only lanes.
Currently in Europe, bicycle highways are a popular measure to promote cycling on long-distance routes. A bicycle highway is a cycling path with a low slope, a width of at least 2m for each direction and a continuous trail without any obstacles or road crossings. There are many bicycle highways in the Netherlands and Denmark. London considers to construct so-called cycle superhighways through the city. Seoul has a great cycling network along the rivers and by declaring them as bicycle-only lanes or in the best case upgrading them to bicycle highways the experience of cycling in Seoul could improve.