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Reader Photos of the Week: Bike infrastructure in Seoul, South Korea

Posted by on December 17th, 2009 at 8:30 am

Ross Kenney shared this photo of the bike and walking facilities
on the Banpo Bridge, suggesting that they are similar to the ideas proposed for the Columbia River Crossing
(Photo: Ross Kenney)

BikePortland reader Ross Kenney writes to us that he moved this fall from Portland to Seoul, South Korea to teach English. He included some photos and notes on the state of bicycling infrastructure there.

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Kenney writes:

“I brought my bike along, because I couldn’t possibly bear the thought of living without any fun between my legs for a year. I have been out exploring the vast network of Seoul bicycle trails and observing the differences from my home town. My new coworkers were quick to brag that their new President is very interested in cycling, and has created many expansion projects.”

Kenney adds that a number of new trails have been constructed thanks to increased political will. He adds, “More importantly, I think, they are now allowing bicycles on the subway, and have constructed special cars on each end of the trains. I have also heard word of a 10 year plan to increase bike access (sounds like a master plan).”

Here are two more photos from Kenney of bike infrastructure in Seoul:

A bike share facility used mainly for recreation on the network of paths.
(Photo: Ross Kenney)
An elevator built for lifting pedestrians and cyclists from the Han River trail to the deck of a bridge.
(Photo: Ross Kenney)

- We last wrote about Seoul’s bike infrastructure (including the elevator pictured above) and programs to increase bicycling back in October, 2008.

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  • Todd Boulanger December 17, 2009 at 9:04 am

    Hi Ross – thanks for the photos. This helps our on-going design conversations for the Interstate Bridge crossing (CRC).

    Please keep these pics coming.

    A set of questions:
    - what is the green lane for (electric cars or bikes)?
    - who made or operates (turn key) the share bike system?

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  • John Lascurettes December 17, 2009 at 9:25 am

    My impression from the renderings of the CRC was that the proposed ped/cycle deck was nowhere near this open or high-roofed.

    I don’t think there would have been as much backlash if it had been that open.

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  • John Lascurettes December 17, 2009 at 9:26 am

    … and that’s to say I don’t think there would have been as much backlash regarding the lower deck specifically, not that there wouldn’t have been as much backlash on the CRC itself.

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  • wsbob December 17, 2009 at 11:19 am

    The top picture may actually be of the Jamsu Bridge. A little web search finds information that explains that the Banpo Bridge was built atop the Jamsu Bridge; to deal with periodical flooding…the Jamsu can ‘be submerged’ according the short wikipedia article. The bridges’s big claim to fame is that it has an extraordinary water feature running the length of both sides of the bridge.

    Nice to have such a big expansive space for people to walk and bike. The bridge itself though, reminds me too much of Portland’s Markham Bridge.

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  • Nick December 17, 2009 at 11:25 am

    The openness and elevator are excellent.

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  • Michelle (BTA) December 17, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    John Lascrutes’ recollection is correct.

    This Seoul bridge has little in common with what is proposed for the CRC biking and walking path.

    at The CRC proposal involves about 200 feet of bridge (width), hovering about 25 feet above the path.

    The above photo shows a much narrower bridge (looks like about 64 feet wide) much higher above the path (hovering perhaps 50 or 60 feet).

    The Seoul path is also at water level, instead of 90 feet in the air. People really like being near water, and people do not like to climb up and down big hills.

    It looks lovely! If the CRC path were designed like this Korean path I think it would be a huge success.

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  • Michelle (BTA) December 17, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    (John LASCURETTES, I’m embarrassed to have butchered your last name so! Pardon me.)

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  • sustainabologna December 17, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    Is the proposed CRC lower deck really as open as the facilities in the photo? From what I had gathered the CRC plans call for a completely enclosed tunnel. Someone tell me it’s going to be open like the picture so I have one less reason to hate the CRC.

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  • Falbo December 17, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    This is a pretty great setup for an under-bridge path, combining a couple things we see in Portland already. It is at water level, like the Eastbank Esplanade, and opens up to a tall view of the bridge, similar to the walking path under the St. Johns bridge.

    Could this be setup as a drawbridge on the lower bike path, but not on the highway above? Bikers seem less put off by waiting for the drawbridge than drivers, and it might buy us some design opportunities.

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  • Adam December 17, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    I agree that there are some great bicycle-friendly developments going on in Seoul at the moment.

    Some of the roads in the old part of town are being narrowed to slow and discourage traffic. Quite a few shared bicycle-pedestrian sidewalks have been repaved to make for a smoother ride. (Riding on the sidewalk here, as in Japan, is expected. Everyone knows Koreans drive erratically, and the sidewalks tend to be wide and spacious.) Plus we now have bicycle-friendly subway cars every weekend.

    Just one problem. The lion’s share of cycling investment goes into leisure facilities, such as the pictures above, and promoting bike racing. This is good for Korean bicycle makers and helmet sellers, but does very little for those of us who just want to get around town safely and easily.

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  • Paul Johnson December 17, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    wow, literally a good 10+ meters of space for pedestrians…where’s the pedestrian walking? Back to traffic in a bicycle lane. I guess pedestrians are retarded the world over.

    Coincidentally, it’d be nice if the Springwater Corridor, Willamette Greenway and Vera Katz Esplanade had sidewalks so pedestrians wouldn’t feel so encouraged to walk in the middle of traffic on those ways instead of on the shoulders where they belong…

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  • Paul Johnson December 17, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    The green “lane” isn’t a lane. It’s a median. Pedestrians belong there.

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  • Ross Kenney December 17, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    Paul is correct, the green lane is for pedestrian use. Unfortunately in this case I think they often walk down the edge to see the water below. Seoul has recently created a campaign to change the flow of pedestrians. South Koreans have always walked on the left, but now they’re trying to change that. Amidst the change, walkers have been utterly confused everywhere.

    The bike share setup in the photo is purely automated. The customer uses a machine to pay and unlock the bike. I’m not sure how they have established the credit/deposit system. There are many other bike rental facilities along the paths which are operated by employees. Typically those bikes range from free to the equivalent of $3.00 per hour.

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  • Ross Kenney December 17, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    p.s. I have more pictures of the Banpo bridge and other facilities. I will post them in my Picasa in the next few days.

    http://picasaweb.google.com/Ross.Kenney

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  • Steve B. December 17, 2009 at 11:29 pm

    Coincidentally, it’d be nice if the Springwater Corridor, Willamette Greenway and Vera Katz Esplanade had sidewalks so pedestrians wouldn’t feel so encouraged to walk in the middle of traffic on those ways instead of on the shoulders where they belong…

    Um, they are multi-use paths. No sidewalks needed, pedestrians ARE traffic. I wouldn’t argue against widening and striping, though.

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  • Paul Johnson December 17, 2009 at 11:55 pm

    Now you’re just nitpicking semantics, especially since you agree that pedestrian traffic should have their own facilities.

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  • RWL1776 December 18, 2009 at 11:48 am

    Ross,
    say hello to Miss Kim at the Nashville Club in Itaewon for me! I spent 7 months there in Seoul, working for KIA Motors. There was NO way I was going to ride a bike on those streets. The drivers, especially the cab drivers, were just to erratic. I have some photo’s I will attempt to scan and pass on, from 1995.

    2 Weeks before I was to arrive in Seoul, one of the bridges across the Han River collapsed at about 6 am. (I can’t recall the name, the structure underneath was blue). Anyway, countless cars/busses drove off the open span before they could stop traffic. Upon investigation, it was found the company who built the bridge skimped on the bolts used to hold it together! For example, in areas where there should have been a pattern of 50 bolts…..they found 10. The Manager was fired and jailed. I still have a picture of that bridge somewhere, with the section in the river. And then there was the time they paved a bunch of the roads, but never re-checked the clearance height of the pedestrian bridges overhead, Yep, the day the roads re-opened, trucks were slamming into the overpasses. Duh!

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  • Paul Johnson December 18, 2009 at 11:52 am

    My condolences on getting bought out by Hyundai…KIA was an awesome make before Hyundai ruined it. I put 350,000 mostly camping trip and helping people move miles on mine over 15 years before it finally gave up on life.

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  • Ross Kenney December 18, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    RWL, the bridge you’re referring to is the Seongsu Bridge. It now resides with a rusty brownish structure. I live on the north end of it. I think those tragedies are an unintended consequence of society’s need to build large structures. See Minnesota bridge collapse.

    Although the Korean government has big eyes for bicycle traffic, it’s currently unrealistic to (safely) ride on a road here (with the exception of a few that have buffered cycletracks). To my understanding, Korea has a short history of modernization (see Japanese occupation and/or Korean War), so most people haven’t been driving for very long. This means the traffic laws are very loose, and people are not all that experienced. If one were to ride on the streets here, they ought not protect themselves with the righteousness of traffic laws.

    There is however, a subway and bus transit system that makes driving undesirable even to those who like to drive.

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  • Sasha Friedman December 21, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    I am finishing up a year in Seoul and I brought my bike here, expecting to commute and also to bring bike polo to Korea.

    As it turned out, riding a bike in Seoul is a very hazardous activity and quite frankly, not fun at all. As it was pointed out in this thread, there are some bike trails, but they focus on leisure and are not useful for commuting.

    You’ll see riding clubs of 10 people on Moots full suspension bikes, on the paved bike path along the river, where they ride to a 7-11 to drink and be away from their wives. There is a fixed-gear scene here, but it is more of a trend – something to be seen with – than to actually ride.

    It was a tough decision, but I decided to stop riding altogether here.
    Sasha

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