A to B to Green: The Korean solar bike lane

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A rather interesting video was loaded onto YouTube in March this year. The footage was shot by a drone flying above the Sejong to Daejeon road, a few hours’ drive out of Seoul. The highway now has a bike lane running between the two carriageways that is entirely shaded along its length, a distance of around 20 miles (32 km), by solar panels.

This is an excellent way in which to utilize a previously unused space for a positive purpose, in this case the generation of electricity from solar power. The cyclists using the space are separated from other traffic using the highway by a guard rail while the solar panels overhead provide shade and cover against the weather. The project is part of a wider plan to build a bike path network that will eventually cover more than 217 miles (350 km), circumventing the city of Sejong.

“Korea’s crowded highways have convinced many commuters to ditch four wheels and an engine for two wheels and pedals” says Christopher DeMorro, writing for the Gas2 website.

Korea isn’t the only city in the world planning revolutionary schemes for cyclists. For example, London will eventually have a subterranean pedestrian and cyclist commuter route within the city center called the London Underline, courtesy of global design firm Gensler. The project will utilize abandoned London Underground tunnels, which are many. It will also incorporate Pavegen tiles on its surfaces in order to power the lights and ventilation system. The scheme has already won the Best Conceptual Project award at the 2015 London Planning Awards and it will probably win a whole lot more awards in the years to come.

Copenhagen has now got itself a ‘cycle snake’ – an elevated cyclepath designed by Danish architecture firm Dissing + Weitling. It is 700 feet long and 13 feet wide and is invaluable in helping cyclists to avoid the city’s crowded waterfront shopping area.

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The Copenhagen ‘cycle snake’ (Cykelslangen) – Pic: Rasmus Hjortshøj – COAST Studio

The key thing about these schemes is that they demonstrate quite clearly that city transportation networks needn’t be dominated by cars and buses, which is an increasingly important issue as our city centers grow ever more congested. Furthermore, the Korean project also shows that there are all kinds of under-utilized spaces hidden away under our very noses, just waiting to serve a useful purpose. What better purpose could there be than to generate clean energy, thereby lowering carbon emissions and helping to save the planet from runaway global warming?

Innovative cycle schemes also help to relieve the stress on drivers, who increasingly are taking a hostile attitude to cyclists invading what they perceive to be ‘their’ space. There is a whole debate to be had about the rights and wrongs of that particular issue which we won’t touch upon here, but surely anything that diffuses the ‘war’ between cyclist and motorist has to be a good thing. Not only that, but if you keep the cycle lane visible while clearly separating it from drivers, the cycle lane still serves its secondary psychological purpose of signalling to drivers stuck in a traffic-jam that perhaps there’s a better way of getting around than being stuck in a metal box that is supposed to be going somewhere but isn’t at that particular moment.

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However, there is one distinct problem with the Korean cycle path, and that is the emissions from the passing traffic, particularly with regard to diesel particulates which have now been shown to cause cancer. Nevertheless, you could argue that is a problem cyclists routinely have to face in city centers all over the world anyway. Another problem is the fact that this project embraces the disconnect of drivers disengaging with their immediate environment and bringing it into cycling. As a commentator on the carscoops website observed, it may be doubtful as to how many cyclists would actually want to use such a route in the first place.

So while this project may embrace some fairly clever ideas, it seems that there are some potential problems with it too. It will be interesting however, to see if the design catches on or whether it actually turns out to be a bit of a flop.

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