JUCA’s David Du Preez and Mehita Iqani had the opportunity to spend a few days in Beijing, China in July this year.
Beijing is a city of almost 12 million inhabitants and the capital of China. During the height of the communist era, the bicycle was the government-endorsed mode of transport for the people, and considered one of the three “must-haves” for a comfortable life, to the extent that the nation “became known as zixingche wang guo, the Kingdom of Bicycles”.
Since the 1990s, China’s economy moved to a version of free-market economics, and has witnessed one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, second only to the United States. Since China’s economic boom, cars have become more popular in big cities like Beijing. Nevertheless, there are still millions of bicycles in the city, and its flat topography, wide streets and generous, protected bicycle lanes on every street make it the commuter cyclists dream.
Bicycle lanes are extremely wide, able to accommodate two to three cycles abreast, as well as the ubiquitous electric scooters – which although only slightly faster than the bicycles, tend to be respectful of cyclists.
Bicycle lanes were typically separated by little white fences from the motorized traffic, and at times were also protected by a row of parked cars.
We were struck by the general sense of respect which all road users showed each other. We saw very few cars or mopeds speeding, and all users of the bicycle lanes seemed to show great awareness of the movements of other bicycle lane users.
Bicycle lanes had protected balustrades to ensure that other vehicles could not use them.
It was such a pleasure to see old and young people on bicycles – from white-haired grandparents to little children standing between their parents legs on the front of an electric bicycle.
Bicycle parking was ample and plenty – available on practically every street corner.
Many narrow roads (or hutongs) were closed to motor traffic.
Commuters used their bicycles to transport many things – even their pets!
The wide, flat roads made even long commutes possible – we managed was a 24km round trip from central Beijing to the 789 Art District.
Beijing (and many other Chinese cities) also have bike share schemes.
Even though the car seems to be growing in popularity in Beijing, there are some moves by the government to re-popularize the bicycle as a move to reduce pollution, which is serious problem due to the country’s rapid industrialisation. In general, the Chinese attitude to providing infrastructure for commuter cycling was inspiring and showed a real commitment to the common good. Johannesburg could learn a lot from this model cyclist-friendly city.