China: Still the Kingdom of Bicycles?

China has long been recognized as a nation of bicyclists, but as
its economy booms and the government paves the world’s largest
interstate-highway system, pedaling two-wheelers are being pushed
aside to make room for cars. As Bill Donahue reports for
Sierra, the Chinese have been reaping the
benefits of a burgeoning economy: bigger homes, meatier diets, and
the chance to own cars. With the country poised to soon overtake
the United States as the world’s largest automotive market, cars
and highways are being touted as a means of fostering a middle
class, allowing corporations to expand beyond major metropolitan
areas. Such developments mean the bicycle, once a favored mean of
transportation, is on its way to becoming an item of leisure rather
than necessity.

In ‘Greening the Dragon,’ a special report
sponsored by the UK’s Department for the Environment and Rural
Affairs in Green Futures, an independent magazine
published by Forum for the Future, Jonathon Porritt writes
that ‘the car has become a far more fitting symbol of economic and
political success than the lowly bike.’ While there are still only
about eight cars for every 1,000 Chinese citizens, urban areas like
Beijing squeeze in 1,000 new automobiles a day.

Those who remain true to their two wheels aren’t necessarily
bicycle advocates. Donahue, who took his love of cycling to
Shanghai to ride with the city’s 5 million remaining bike
commuters, reports that he was hard pressed to find anyone who
would say anything bad about the surge of cars in cities, despite
increased biker fatalities, disregarded bike lanes, and car-only
streets. In fact, cyclists are praising cars for bringing smoother
pavement and stricter traffic laws to urban areas. Even the Chinese
bike manufacturer Forever Bicycle’s spokesman Lawrence Yu declares,
‘Chinese people need more cars.’

It’s actually the higher-ups who are worried. A prime concern is
that all these new cars will worsen China’s already grave air
pollution problems. In June, Porritt reports, the Chinese
construction minister announced the reinstatement of all bike lanes
that had been handed over to cars. He also mandated that civil
servants use bicycles or public transportation for their work
commute. Porritt posits that the minister is ‘apparently determined
that China should regain its global accolade as ‘the Kingdom of
Bicycles.”

Go there >>
Shanghai By Bike

Go there too >>
China: The Most Important Story In the
World

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