Chinese Language Blog

Urban Biking in China(城市的自行车) Posted by on Jun 28, 2010 in Uncategorized

It’s not surprising that there are more than 100 cities in China with a population of at least 1 million people. Following rampant development, China has turned to mega-cities as concrete jungles house nearly half of the 1.4 billion people in the mainland today. So even in a country geographically vast, urbanization or 城市化 (chéngshìhuà) has led to an influx of city dwellers in the last few decades. Cities like Beijing, Chongqing and Shanghai are sprawling and densely packed, relying on multiple modes of transportation to get people from point A to point B. Yet with the emergence of private automobiles, and the legions of buses and taxis that crowd the road (not to mention a lack of subway systems outside Beijing and Shanghai) city dwellers have turned to a simpler mode of transportation–bicycles.

Bicycles, or 自行车 (zìxíngchē), are everywhere in China, filling up bike lots, crowding intersections, and clogging side street lanes. In urban Chinese mega-cities, they solve two main problems: traffic 堵车, (dǔchē), and parking, 停车 (tíngchē). If you have a 1-5 kilometer commute, odds are you’ll spend less time biking there than driving or taking a cab. If you drove your own car, good luck finding a parking spot. Most people become locked in an epic 12-point turn struggle to narrowly thread their cars into some makeshift spot on the side walk. Others are forced to drive circuit after circuit in parking structures, partaking in what I liken to “bumper carts for grownups”. You’re either waiting in bumper to bumper traffic nor risking a fender bender ever chance you get behind the wheel, so why bother?

The benefits to biking in China are many. Aside from getting some exercise and saving time on your commute, use of bicycles limits the amount of pollution 污染 (wūrǎn) circulating in the cities. It would be hard to imagine the amount of smog produced if there were as many motorists in China as in the U.S. In progressive countries like the Netherlands, where biking is a major form of urban transit, adopting a “green” mentality has led to numerous social benefits. China sees these benefits as necessary to further the development of urban areas in a sustainable, 可持续的 (kě chí xù de), way.

That’s why the Ministry of Transport has been actively promoting “Green Bicycle” or “Communal Biking” programs in cities like Hangzhou and Chongqing, where public bikes can be rented for a few dollars. All that’s required is a refndable 100 renminbi deposit,存款 (cúnkuǎn), to gain an access card, and then a few renminbi per hour after that. The best part is that you can drop you bike off at a plethora of locations scattered across the city with just the swipe of a card. If you visit a city with public bikes, I highly suggest it for seeing the sights and sounds. *See HangZhou Bike Tour (Next Post) for photos from the bike tour.*

If you do bike in China, however, be careful, 小心!慢走!Unlike biking in western nations, the road can be very dangerous 危险 to inexperienced (and experienced) riders. Cars will not yield to you, and will come barreling down on you in the wrong lane. Buses, driven by fearless ex-tank militia guys (they are crazy) will come tearing down at you, either to stop, or just to navigate the traffic. I’ve seen a few gruesome bicycle accidents from buses and it’s not pretty. Also, other cyclists can cause for some close calls, so remember to make eye contact and if possible use your little bike bell. 泠泠 (línglíng)!

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About the Author: Stephen

Writer and blogger for all things China related. Follow me on twitter: @seeitbelieveit -- My Background: Fluent Mandarin speaker with 3+ years working, living, studying and teaching throughout the mainland. Student of Kung Fu and avid photographer and documentarian.

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