One of the things I loved about being in China a few weeks ago was seeing all the bike lanes. While demand for cars is most definitely on the rise, bikes maintain a prominent place in the nation's transportation mix, and many streets give this mode of transport their proper due.
Many streets have bike lanes, and some are even separated entirely from the main road by a strip of grass or trees.
In the biggest streets of Beijing, there are two lanes for bikes and scooters (and the occasional interloping car or bus) separated by a wide sidewalk.
In other cases, the barrier is only a fence.
And in others it’s just a painted line. But however it is designed, the separate bike lane does give the bikes some room away from the cars, which are driven with reckless abandon here. Blinkers? Forget it. A safe distance between cars in opposite directions? A couple of inches.
We saw bike lanes in small cities and large ones. We saw them in old cities like Nanjing, a former capital of China during the Ming dynasty, and in new cities like the Suzhou Industrial Park. Though it is called an industrial park, it's really a brand new city of more than 600,000 people, residential apartment buildings, factories, commercial centers, and even parks, built on what was farmland 15 years ago. Every road in in Suzhou had a nice bike lane separated from the main road by a pretty solid fence. (To learn more about how other nations are integrating bike lanes, check out these posts about California public officials who traveled to the Netherlands to learn about bike-friendly design and policies.)
There are lots of bikes to fill the bike lanes. Many have a small motor (most electric, some gas, some propane) as well as pedals so people can cruise along pretty fast. Beijing, Nanjing, Suzhou, Shanghai are all flat so biking is easy. Also there are many scooters, again many electric and some gas. Some are new and sleek and look like Vespas; others amaze you that they can even move.
And of course, there has to be lots of parking spaces to accommodate all these bikes. It's often covered and jammed full.
That provides one great incentive for biking -- you can park very near the office. I even saw a primitive electric bike charging station -- an extension cord with a few power strips nailed to a board hanging from a tree branch.
At the Shanghai Energy Efficiency Center, they even had a prototype fuel cell bike. China clearly sees bikes not just as a thing of the past.
Even though more modern places in China have fewer bikes, it's pretty cool that one aspect of the Chinese past is way ahead of us.
This post is part of a series on my recent travels in China. Stay tuned for more posts on China’s efforts to become greener.