Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bicycles in China: Falling or Rising?

Every reputable climate scientist out there is sounding the alarm: decrease carbon output or we're all toast. You'd think countries everywhere would be scrambling to find ways to encourage people to get out of their cars, into mass transit, walking -- and bicycling.

How are things in the "Kingdom of Bicycles"? 

In 1949 Chairman Mao decreed that China would make it's own bicycle, and 1950, the first Flying Pigeon Bicycle rolled out of the factory. Bikes were touted as one of the three essentials, along with sewing machines and watches. 

As China embraced western style growth, the Chinese also embraced western style cars.  According to Earth Policy Institute, between 1995 and 2005 the number of bikes in China decreased by 35%. Private cars more than doubled, from 4.2 million to 8.9 million. Some cities closed bike lanes, blaming bikes for traffic congestion. In 2004, Shanghai banned bicycles from some downtown streets. The perception of bicycles as icons of prosperity, flipped, to symbols of the old, backward China. Bikes might have hit a low point in 2010 when T.V. dating game contestant Ma Nua was asked by an unemployed suitor if she'd  ride a bicycle with him on a date. She tartly replied, I'd rather cry in the back of a BMW than smile on a bicycle." A social media uproar followed. 

The tide may be turning. Smog, people who don't have cars, international influence and young hipsters, are helping make cycling trendy again. A lot of people are buying environmentally friendly electric bikes and motorcycles. 

Big cities are setting aside bicycle lanes and starting bike share programs. Informal "alley cat" races are popping up, adding to bicycle cache. 

Now it's a race, I suppose. Will the Chinese become car-centric, following the west? Or will we, become more cyclized, following the east? 

Motorbikes for rent, Shanghai
Old and new, Shanghai
Recycling in Shanghai
Bicycle Sculpture, Shanghai
Bicycles in a Beijing hutong (courtyard divided into apartments), slated for demolition to make room for high-rises.
Shanghai - garden trimmings

Cyclists at the Great Wall
Students in Beijing
Effects of smog, Beijing
Haven't quite caught on

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