Final weekend in Seoul [fully updated]

I’m happy to report that in Seoul the number of people getting around on bicycles is edging up.

This is disappointingly despite the city government rather than because of it. A year ago, the papers were awash with the mayor’s promises to improve bicycle routes and build more bike lanes. This doesn’t appear to have come to much. A small number of heavily-bicycled areas have been repaved and are more comfortable to ride, but there is a palpable sense of a missed opportunity.

There are however definitely more bicycles about. And a good few stylistas on them too.

Most investment seems to have gone into the lengthy leisure trails along the river to appease the activism of sports cycling groups. The parks are popular places to ride a bike at the weekend too, with easy bike rental. Oddly, the surfaces are already worryingly cracked and bumpy in many places (though the wickedly cold winter can’t have helped).

Built to last?

Not built to last is my impression. And they don’t go anywhere!

On the other hand, those people – young and old, male and female – who are actually going somewhere by bike benefit only from the city-wide normalcy of riding on the pavements [sidewalks]. This can be frustratingly slow (due to the overwhelming number of pedestrians at all hours who, unlike the ordered keep-left-ism of Japan, seem to walk mainly in zigzags) and the pavements are often remarkably uneven and umcomfortable to ride on (due largely to the masses of motor vehicles which destroy the pavements by routinely use them for parking).

The very few bike lanes on the roads are best avoided. They offer no protection from traffic (many cars, vans and taxis park in the lanes or use them to overtake slow traffic).

Indeed the only thing that makes riding on the road bearable is the incredibly heavy traffic, which generally keeps average (and often top) vehicle speeds low. And the high number of people walking, cycling, and generally moving about at the roadside keeps drivers alert for bicycles.

On a positive note, there is one major positive development and that’s the road eating happening downtown. Not done for bicycles per se, but it does dissuade a lot of drivers from using that street and slows those that do. That’s road diets.


1) The easiest thing the city government here could do to make life better for pedestrians and bicyclists and public transport user alike is to crack down heavily on illegal and antisocial parking. Cars do it, as do taxis and vans. Pavement parking, for example.


all parked

And parking in cycle lanes.




And parking in bus lanes. And parking on pedestrian crossings.


And parking obstructing lowered bicycle/wheelchair kerbs. (The police are as guilty of illegal and unecessarily antisocial parking as anyone.)


Crack down hard on it and send a message to drivers that they can’t just leave their heavy property damaging and obstructing public space. Stop turning a blind eye.

parked - vehicle clearly obstructing whole pavement; police ignored it

2) Another no-brainer policy is to stop allowing the police to recalibrate the traffic lights at peak traffic times – as a pedestrian, I’ve waited a full 7 minutes at times to cross a single road. It does next to nothing for the traffic – indeed, probably encourages more – and inconveniences pedestrians to the extent many get visibly irate.)

3) Yet another obvious and cost-effective action would be to put in some real, quality, segregated cycle lanes on main roads (separated by a line of bushes or trees or the like). Most main roads in Seoul are obscenely bloated – between 4 and 10 lanes wide.

central Seoul - why so many cars?

wide roads encourage private car use - central Seoul

Giving a lane each way to a bike lane and row of shrubs isn’t going to inconvenience anyone and will make the city much more cycle friendly.

protect bicycle lanes from motor vehicles, something like this

(This will probably also require a bikes-go-first traffic light policy to make junctions safer.) And when you mix bus stops with cycle lanes, this is incredibly dangerous

bus suddenly pulls into cycle lane

whereas this is safe.

cycle lane round a bus stop in the Netherlands

4) Raise the standards of finish on pavements and the joins between pavement and road. Even most brand new edges have a bump of between 1cm and 3cm, which can make for an uncomfortable ride. And in the worst cases this can be 5 or 6cm. A ‘no bumps’ policy would be welcome. From this

painfully uneven surfaces

and this

lip too high from road to pavement for bicycles and wheelchairs - here 5cm

to this.

no bumps! - NL, Japan... Korea soon?

5) And enforce (even extend) the car-free areas. These are increasingly being ignored.


2 thoughts on “Final weekend in Seoul [fully updated]

  1. It has been a pleasure reading your blog for a year. I’ve also posted the link to this blog on one of the bicycle commuter community in Korea and it made some spark, especially about the fashion. I don’t believe 30’s and 40’s will change fashion easily.

    Those Korean’s who dress up like ninja often ride 30k~60km, round trip, and sometimes over 80~100km on a round trip. We need more riders, who rides below 10km. Current enviornment don’t support them as there is no benefit of doing it.

    keep up your post, good luck with your bike ride and ride safely.

  2. Yangman,

    I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the blog and I really appreciate you sharing my thoughts and experiences!

    For more on round town bicycle fashion, a great place to start is the ‘Copenhagen Cycle Chic manifesto’ here:

    I agree the current infrastructure in Seoul isn’t very supportive for normal, everyday people who just want to get around easier by bike. But I’m optimistic that the more people who just get out there and look good while getting around from A to B, the more people will be inspired to do the same. And the more people ride, the more likely the authorities will build high quality bicycle infrastructure. Seoul is in the enviable position of having plenty of room for it!

    I do hope you pop back now and then to see what’s going on, and it’d be great if we could meet up when I’m next in Korea. 🙂


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