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Can Beijing Return to its Transportation (and Communist) Roots?

Beijing has strayed so far from its roots as a bicycling city that it now claims the title of the world's largest auto market, while only 12 per cent of commuters use bicycles. City planners wants to make it popular again to reduce air pollution.
November 13, 2015, 10am PST | Irvin Dawid
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"Bikes became an integral part of China’s culture after the Communist revolution in 1949," writes Owen Guonews researcher for The New York Times in Beijing. "Along with a sewing machine and a watch, a bicycle was once considered one of the three must-haves of every Chinese household."

As China has urbanized, families have become more prosperous and many city residents have moved to suburbs many miles from their jobs. The resulting growth in car use combined with lax law enforcement has undermined a half-century tradition of commuting on bikes.

How far and fast China's capital city has strayed from those roots. Consider that in 2000, 38 percent of commuters cycled to work. Guo writes a comprehensive piece that looks at the challenges that planners face to increase cycling.

Beijing "wants to increase the proportion of commuters who use bikes to 18 percent by 2020, according to city transportation officials," writes Guo. But the challenges are formidable.

study (published in August) by researchers at Peking University in Beijing found that air pollution, safety concerns and a lack of road space were the main reasons people avoided biking to work in the capital.

"The negative perception that bicycle lanes have gradually been taken over by motorized vehicles is one key reason that deters motorized commuters from bicycling," write researchers Ming Yang and John Zacharias, which is confirmed anecdotally by Guo.

One reason for motorists parking in bike lanes is that "(t)he city has designed parking capacities that can accommodate only half of its five million cars, said Li Wei, an engineer at the Beijing Municipal Institute of City Planning and Design.

Outside of the capital city's horrific air pollution, cycling conditions share similarities with the United States. "(T)he city’s transportation policies have long favored cars," stated Wei, which any American cyclist can identify with.

Hat tip: Jennifer Scholtes, Politico Morning Transportation

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Published on Wednesday, November 11, 2015 in The New York Times
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