Sunday, March 31, 2013

Cars now trump bikes in Beijing

Towns and cities that accommodate cyclists have always seemed more human and approachable to me. Davis, California comes to mind. Portland, Oregon is bike friendly and Minneapolis, Minnesota (when it's not bone-chllingly cold) is another good example. To me, it's a hopeful sign when people move outside the norm in our petroleum-fueled society and take transportation issues into their own hands (and industriously pedaling feet). 

As Noah Feldman notes in Bloomberg world, Beijing used to be a cyclist's paradise where bikes dominated the travel landscape. It was a less a case of intelligent city planning than pure necessity, as the economy of the region hadn't reached the explosive growth the prevails today and bicycles, for many, were the only affordable mode of transportation. Sadly, streets packed with bicycles have become a quaint memory as poor air quality and an massive influx of automobiles have transformed Beijing from cyclist paradise to nightmare. 

Of recent experiences in the city, Feldman said:
When I went to rent a bike upon my arrival in Beijing last week, people looked at me as though I were mad. As I tooled around the old neighborhoods near the Forbidden City, I was often the only nonmotorized thing in sight. There were bike lanes, all right, but they were populated only by motorbikers and the occasional fellow intrepid Westerner. On the back streets, I saw a few older Chinese cyclists, wearing expressions of thorough disgust. Meanwhile, Boston, like lots of other U.S. cities, has become a reasonable place to bicycle. I still wouldn’t recommend it to the faint of heart, but as long as you bike defensively, you feel like a member of a forward-looking tribe of change agents.
Initiatives are being launched in towns and cities around the world to encourage biking, but Beijing offers a clear example of what happens when automobiles trump bikes.