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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

Dear City of Ulsan, Thanks, But….

As an avid bicyclist, I’ve been happy to see the city of Ulsan build so many bicycle paths around town.  When I arrived in 2004 there were few paths, fewer bicyclists and a lot of busy roads. From where I lived in Cheonsang, across the river from Guyeong-li, the paths along the Taewha River were dis-joined, only on side of the river or the other, and frequently to get from one section to another required crossing highways or braving the cliffs along the river’s edge.  And while I’m not afraid of riding a bicycle on Korean streets, I have more than enough experience to speak with authority when I say that the streets, and Korean drivers in particular, are dangerous for bicycles, scooters and motorcycles.  I’ve been hit twice by cars already this year. Therefore, I take advantage of the fine bike paths when I can in order to avoid the rude and inconsiderate drivers. So, thanks very much, City of Ulsan, for giving us cyclists an alternative.  We have, however, another problem.

Many of the bicycle paths that have been constructed are immediately adjacent to walking paths. And the bike paths are clearly marked.  One needn’t even be able to read to understand that some paths are designated as bicycle as they are marked with a picture of a bike. So one can’t blame illiteracy for not understanding that one path is for bikes while the adjacent path is for walking, running, etc.  So with ignorance and illiteracy crossed out, why is it that Koreans cannot follow directions and live within the rules and guidelines?

These days, the bike paths are just as dangerous as the streets. Koreans are just as rude and inconsiderate on the paths as they are behind the wheel of a vehicle.  While many Koreans do abide by the markings and walk or run on the walking path and ride on the riding path, many do not. Just as there are many drivers on the roads who follow the rules and are careful drivers, so too are there many who ride and walk in the appropriate path.  But it only takes a few bad drivers to make for dangerous roads and the same applies on the bike and walking paths. A few individuals cannot or will not follow the rules and have made these places dangerous.

This time, however, the tables are turned. For you Koreans who insist in disobeying the signs I have this say: We’re not on the road and you are not behind the wheel of a 2 ton automobile.  As any beginning student of physics will tell you, one of Isaac Newton’s laws of physics is F=MA, or Force =  Mass x Acceleration.  I’m a big man and I ride hard and fast.  That means you are on the lower end of the force equation with regard to  mass and speed. You are generally smaller than I am (I’m big even by American standards – 187cm, 95kg) , and more than likely you are going much slower, particularly if you are walking. I don’t intend to run into you, but if you do not pay attention to the signs and cross my path while I’m on a bicycle-designated path, our collision will damage you far more than me. F=MA.  It’s not just a good idea, it’s the law.

The following photos illustrate my point.

In the above photo, I am riding behind another, slower bicycle. I’d like to pass and keep my speed and heart rate up. But I can’t because this fool ahead has decided he doesn’t want to walk on the adjacent (and empty) walking path but rather on the bike path.  He is endangering himself, me and the bicycle in front of me for no reason whatsoever.  I could have taken many pictures of fools such as this. They are as numerous as locusts on some days. Everyone I find walking on the bike path I tell them, in my best Korean that they are on the bicycle path and the walking path is next to us.  Some actually get angry at me for pointing this out to them.  Apparently they feel entitled to walk where they wish rather than follow the rules. These people will have a very low F coefficient when I see them the next time walking on the bike path.

And then there are the ones who know they shouldn’t be there, but do it anyway.  This group of women are obviously teachers at a kindergarten nearby. They had a dozen cute  little ones out smelling the flowers – right in the middle of the bike path. I don’t think they like the kids. People who like kids would not put them in danger like this. Look carefully at the photo above. Another bicycle ahead of me (wearing a sky blue shirt) passed through this throng of little ones and the teachers barely  looked up and didn’t bother to move the kids out of the way.

However, when I came along 50 meters later I had my camera out and was snapping pictures.  It’s amazing what being caught on camera and the threat of exposure for endangering kids will do for your protective instincts.  Once they saw my camera they shuffled the kids out of the way. I told them I would put this video on Naver and Daum. I don’t think I’ve ever seen color drain from faces as quickly as these ladies did.  They obviously knew they were on the bike path, they knew they shouldn’t have been and only when faced with a public airing of their carelessness with kids did they move. I wonder what any parents of these kids would think if they saw their babies had been subjected to potential serious injury or death by darting in front of a fast moving bike.  This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this.  Most of the time, the teachers smile sweetly and do nothing when I explain they are endangering the kids.  With a camera in my hand, it was their own asses in danger. They knew it and moved quicker than lightening.

But let’s not cast aspersions on just the pedestrians. Korea bike riders can be just as ignorant, rude and inconsiderate. I snapped several pictures of bicyclists riding on the walking path when they should be on the adjacent bike path. Given this revelation, it’s no wonder pedestrians don’t feel compelled to stay on the walking path – there are bikes there.  If bikes stay in their lane, perhaps pedestrians will stay in theirs.

One man behind, five boys in front all riding on the walking path instead of the brown bike path

So despite the time and expense the City of Ulsan has invested (and still are –  a new bike path  is under construction now near the Samho bridge in Mugeodong) in making many great bike paths around the city, I fear it’s all going to waste. Dual paths, but neither properly utilized and neither safe because some Koreans cannot or will not obey the rules and stay on the designated paths. Some Koreans are ruining what otherwise could be a great asset for the community.

What can be done?  Education.  Lots of it. You must go to a driving hagwon to get a license to drive, but we probably don’t need that much. Some public service announcements ought to work. When I first came to Korea it was not uncommon to see people bring pets into grocery stores or even restaurants. A few public service commercials, a few signs and that doesn’t happen any more.  Run a few ads, Ulsan.  Maybe post a  few signs near the paths explaining the dangers of walking on a bike path where large, crazy waygookin ride. Maybe a policeman or two patrolling the paths once in a while explaining the designations of the various paths. Maybe have policemen giving tickets for riding or walking where you shouldn’t.

Whatever it takes, City of Ulsan. Educate your citizens. For their sake. Someone is going to get hurt.  Or by God, I’m putting one of these on the front of my bike and just scooping the witless fools out of the way.