Beijing looks to revitalise bicycle culture

Pedalling around Beijing is a daily struggle for retiree Dai Haiping, with more than four million cars clogging the streets of the Chinese capital, but she remains faithful to her two-wheeler.

Dai is a member of Friends of Nature, a non-governmental organisation which advocates clean public transport, especially over short distances. For Dai, pedal power is the perfect solution for Beijing, but drivers do not agree.

"There are not enough bike lanes. Cars are always in the way when you're trying to cycle and it's really dangerous," says the 59-year-old, who once worked as an agronomist.

In the 1980s, as China launched its pivotal economic reforms, eight out of every 10 Beijingers used bicycles as their primary mode of transport.

Today, that rate has dropped to less than two out of 10.

Once commonplace images of thousands of cyclists ringing their bells at Beijing intersections have been replaced by mammoth traffic jams and blaring horns, as the city's increasingly affluent middle classes embrace the auto.

With road congestion and air pollution ever worsening, local officials are trying to revitalise Beijing's once-thriving bicycle culture by offering a share-hire scheme, similar to those seen in Europe.

"This bike-hire system is aimed at resolving the problem of getting around the city for people needing to travel short distances," says Guo Yun, vice head of the citizens' service centre in Chaoyang district.

Dai and other members of her group support the initiative.

She is constantly trying to carve out a bit of space for her trusty bike in Beijing - a perfect city for cyclists because it's flat, even if searing summer temperatures and icy winters can make riding a bit trying at times.

"I like riding my bike. I don't like taking public transport - it's just too crowded," says Dai, who once used her bicycle for work visits to the countryside.

Her group is mapping the city's bike lanes to see which are most rider-friendly. It regularly organises outings to gauge cyclist opinions.

"To boost economic growth, people need to buy cars, but to protect the environment, the number of cars allowed in central Beijing has to be limited," Dai says.

Unlike other major cities such as Shanghai, Beijing refused to consider such a move until a few years ago.

Just ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games, it took a series of measures to reduce traffic and improve air quality, including the banning of each car from the roads for one day a week. Those restrictions remain in place.

Then in early January, the city adopted the "Green Movement" plan, with the goal of putting nearly a quarter of the city's 17-million-strong population on bicycles by 2015, against 19.7 percent currently.

The bike-hire scheme, launched in early March, is part of that plan. Users apply for a swipe card, which they can use to access 100 bicycles at neighbourhood kiosks near subway stations and key residential buildings.

The first 20 hours of use are free. After that, a fee of 200 yuan must be paid to get another card.

By 2015, authorities say they hope to have about 1,000 kiosks offering 50,000 bikes for rent.

At the exit to the Dongsi underground rail station in the heart of the capital, where hire-bikes are on offer, student Huang Li says she likes the idea.

"It's very green, but it also allows people to get some exercise. It's really good that everyone is working together to protect the environment," Huang says.

The battle of the bikes is however far from won. Previous bicycle-hire schemes failed, and in a fast-growing China, cars are more than a means of transport - they are a status symbol and a sign of economic success.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Guru Careers: Membership Administrator

    £23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Day In a Page

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor