Don’t Share the Road: Modal Separation in Chinese Cities

China doesn't think that cyclists co-exist harmoniously with cars - it's better if everyone has their own space!

China doesn’t think that cyclists co-exist harmoniously with cars!

Bumper (or bike bucket) stickers around Portland often encourage us to “Share the Road.”   Chinese planners would rather you didn’t.

That isn’t to say that they feel that bikes, electric scooters, and motorcycles have no place in traffic.  On the contrary, my experience has been that Chinese cities show great respect for slower-moving wheeled vehicles on major arterials.  Rather than mandating that cyclists ride in narrow bike lanes with only a thin white stripe of paint to protect them from the adjacent high-speed car and truck traffic, two-wheeled vehicles on Shanghai and Beijing arterials are generally given their own lane separated from auto traffic by a concrete-lined green planting strip.

 

A giant green buffer, concrete curbs, and fencing separate a cyclist from car traffic lanes.

A giant green buffer, concrete curbs, and fencing separate a cyclist from car traffic lanes.

Sometimes this side lane doubles as a parking strip, meaning that users of the bike/scooter share their space with the occasional car.  These cars are traveling about 10-15 mph as they search for the ever-elusive parking space and, while an occasional annoyance, they don’t pose the immediate threat to life that the main car traffic lanes would present.   The relaxed pace, combined with the overhead canopy of trees, makes for a reasonably pleasant route (until you get to an intersection, which is an entirely different beast (and blog post) all together).

That's a lot of right-of-way.

That’s a lot of right-of-way.

So how did cities like Beijing and Shanghai get the kind of separated infrastructure that Portland seems to only dream about?  Perhaps a few reasons.  The first may be the benefit of space.  Road expansions have been widespread and often brutal to the traditional fabric of historic urban communities, but the result gives Chinese planners a tremendous amount of right-of-way to work with.  When road cross-sections are over 100 feet, you suddenly have plenty of room for a full bike/scooter travel lane and a generous buffer.

 

A cross-section of Century Boulevard in Shanghai.

A cross-section of Century Boulevard in Shanghai.

The second reason, perhaps, may be timing.  Bicycle, e-bike, and scooter riders in Beijing benefit from living in a city that was re-designed right before the personal automobile consumed all right to the right-of-way.  Although the percentages are rapidly changing, millions of people in Chinese cities still rely on bikes, e-bikes, and scooters to get around and planners recognized this when re-configuring and modernizing the roads.  Thus the transportation system still contains significant and separate accommodations for the slower modes of transportation that people had relied on for the past hundred years. And, because those accommodations provide relatively safe, low-stress environments, cities like Beijing are more likely to retain cautious riders that might be deterred if their only option were to “share the road” with high-speed auto traffic as in American cities.

Regardless of the reasons, a cyclist is treated to more first-class facilities in car-crazy Beijing than in pedal-loving Portland.

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Visiting our Big Sis

Portland has a big sister in China!

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No, not her – she’s just taking advantage of the beautiful Suzhou scenery for her wedding photos.

 

 

 

A Sister City, that is.

 

 

 

 

 

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My last day at CAUPD!

And so it goes… My last day has finally arrived here at CAUPD Beijing! While I am excited to go off and see new parts of China (my itinerary includes stops in Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hong Kong), I will be sad to say goodbye to my home away from home. From the start, my co-workers and supervisors were incredibly friendly and welcoming and their hospitality never ceased during the 8 weeks that I was here. As such, I will miss the little things that have made up my experience…

Outside of CAUPD Beijing

The walk to the office.

The walk to the office was always one of my favorite things about working at CAUPD. Upon leaving the hotel, I would almost always give and receive a friendly “Ni Hao!” from the woman who owns the convenience store located about 50 feet from our hotel front doors. Halfway to work, I would give and receive the same friendly greeting from the woman who owns the dumpling shop where we eat dinner frequently (and I mean frequently). Both women have been unfailingly patient as I practice what little Chinese I know, which is demonstrated by the fact that our interactions are exclusively composed of saying hello back and forth, but no matter…

Nap time around the office after lunch. 

After eating lunch at the glamorous CAUPD cafeteria (I joke, but in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t too bad for a cafeteria), returning to my desk for some rest and relaxation was quite welcome. Granted, I have yet to master sleeping upright in a desk chair as my Chinese counterparts have, but I welcomed to chance to take some time to myself during the day. I think office culture in the U.S. could take some pointers from the Chinese!

Fruit time!!!

It seems I may be one of the few interns who have experienced the joy and wonder that is fruit time, but I’ll be damned if I ever go one afternoon without taking a fruit break! Everyday between the hours of 3 and 4pm, I will inevitably hear the word “Xīguā!!!” being shouted from the common area of our floor. And inevitably, there will be an orderly exodus from the cubicles to the freshly cut watermelon. People, why don’t we do this in the U.S.?! I’m sure our collective waistlines would also appreciate a fresh piece of fruit for snack rather than the typical processed flour product that passes as a decent snack in the U.S.

OK, I shall step off my soapbox now…

Witnessing everyday life in Haidian

After work, life seems to just happen. I think that’s very true across the world over, but I have enjoyed walking around my neighborhood to see people go about their lives when not on the clock. During evening walks around the neighborhood, I bear witness to dance sessions (it looks like some sort of Waltz, but I have no clue what type of dance it is!), exercise time in parking lots, generations of families having dinner together–you name it! It’s everyday life that has fascinated me the most. One can see all the tourist destinations in the world, but without seeing what everyday life is like, it’s impossible to really experience of the local culture.

So as I prepare to depart Beijing, I will do so with a heavy heart. Two months may seem like a long time, but it doesn’t feel like enough at this point. I hope to keep in touch with all of the new friends that I have met, but I know distance can take its toll. Regardless, this has been a fabulous experience for me, and I still have more adventures to come!

CAUPD–it’s been real!

 

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