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An Urbanist’s Tour of Korea, Part Four: Cycling Through Changwon and Elsewhere

Not long ago, so South Korea residents of 15 or more years tell me, taking a bike to the streets of Seoul would have indicated a death wish. But then somehow, in less time than it took to rise from dire poverty amid the wreckage of war to the kind of envy-of-Asia wealth it enjoys today, the country became surprisingly bikeable. I still don’t feel half as comfortable riding the streets of Seoul as I do those of bicycle-loving Copenhagen, or even bicycle-tolerating London, but nor do I fear for my life on them. Then again, given the behaviour of the drivers here, perhaps I should.

In many respects, South Korea’s cities feel so distinctive because everyday Koreans don’t observe the letter of law as rigidly as their counterparts in other developed countries – certainly not, when it comes to traffic, with the fearful near-piety of Americans. Hence the Korean tendency to take red lights as more ‘cautionary suggestion’ than ‘implacable command’.

I got a group of North American expatriates swooning for their old continent by asking if they remembered how, when you stood in the middle of a pedestrian crosswalk back home, cars would refrain from driving into it. In urban South Korea, rather than trusting that the law will save them, drivers and pedestrians go by each situation’s human context, which they examine and respond to accordingly.

Read the whole thing at the Guardian.

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