[FORUM]Bicycles benefit health and planet

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[FORUM]Bicycles benefit health and planet

Even a story about a local government head who uses a compact car as his official vehicle can be news in Korea.

According to data from a National Assembly audit, Kim Wan-joo, mayor of Jeonju in North Jeolla province, is the only official among 248 gubernatorial heads to use a compact car with a displacement of a measly 1,500 cubic centimeters.

Most local administration heads favor Hyundai Motors' Grandeur. Half of them use the Grandeur as an official vehicle.

The local governments dep-end on the central government for over 42 percent of their budget. So why do officials favor luxury cars? Because of the Korean way of keeping one's face: Man is evaluated by the car he owns.

The domestic market for mini cars has shrunk. Mini cars make up only 1.1 percent of government vehicles; the figure is supposed to be 20 percent.

Mr. Kim has been a lover of compact cars ever since he was elected mayor of Jeonju four years ago. The only occasion where his car has presented a problem was when he was mistreated by a parking lot attendant who mistook him for an uninvited guest at a meeting for local government heads.

Granted, he has been admonished by some members of his constituency, who say, "Just think of the pride of Jeonju's 600,000 citizens."

But despite this, Mr. Kim perseveres. In addition to driving a compact car, he also is a bicycle enthusiast. He cycles from home to city hall every Tuesday and Thursday, a 10-kilometer spin.

Professor Park Chan-suk, former president of Kyungpook National University, is also a bicycle lover, believing that "small is beautiful." He has been making the 14-kilometer bike ride to campus for five years and has been healthy the entire period. "The only solution for automobile pollution and traffic jams in urban areas is riding the bicycle," he said.

According to John C. Ryan's book "Seven Wonders: Everyday Things for a Healthier Planet," the first wonder that consumes less resources, reduces pollution and saves the earth's ecosystem is the bicycle. Bikes are the most energy efficient form of transport ever devised. They make users healthier and do not pollute. (The remaining six wonders are condoms, ceiling fans, clotheslines, Pad Thai, public libraries and ladybugs.)

A lane wide enough for an automobile can hold five bikes side by side; a parking space for an auto can accommodate 12 bikes. Bicycle-only lanes can transport two to six times more people than automobiles can at close range.

When a car drives 10 kilometers, it emits 2,000 cubic centimeters of carbon dioxide and 200 cubic centimeters of carbon monoxide, plus carbureted hydrogen, nitrogen dioxide and other noxious fumes. The bike makes no contribution to air pollution.

The bicycle had the privilege of being awarded a first prize in June by the Nature Trail (www.fulssi.or.kr), a Korean environmental civic group. The reasons for the prize are interesting. "The bicycle does not treat the world violently, unlike cars and motorcycles. It is just part of nature and make us humble," the group explained. The Nature Trail advocates a renewed respect for nature. It prizes birds, stones, grasses, trails, shellfish and flowers.

Sangju city in North Gyeongsang province, which was awarded a special prize by the Nature Trail, showed us the possibility of a bike-oriented city. Sangju has a long bike-related history. It hosted a national bicycle race in 1924. There are 85,000 bikes and 126 kilometers of bike-only lanes in this city of 43,000 households and more than 130,000 of population. It has successfully invited a bike factory to set up shop within its borders and and plans to open a bike museum next month. Unfortunately, its annual bike festival was canceled this year by Typhoon Rusa.

Bicycles in Japan, Germany and the Netherlands transport 25 to 43 percent of the population. There are long-lasting biker-friendly public policies.

In Korea, only 2.4 percent of the population uses bikes for transportation.

Perhaps, as the winds chill, making it more comfortable to pedal to work, we should consider using bicycles to stay healthy and save our planet.

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Han Cheon-soo

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