Within the past week I have moved apartments, or I should say, I’ve moved from a hotel to an apartment. While I have only been living in my new place for a few days now, I have already noticed great differences between the two locations. The hotel was in an older part of Beijing and is surrounded by various hutongs. Because of this, size and width of the roads have been restricted by environment in which the roads were built. The apartment on the other hand, being in a newer part of Beijing, is surrounded by roads that were able to develop with little preexisting physical restrictions. As a pedestrian, the differences are immediately noticeable.
In Beijing, many roads have space dedicated to bicycles. This is true both places I’ve lived, but instead of the typical steel fence like dividers you see around the city to separate bike lanes from vehicle traffic, the streets near my apartment have nice wide planters. This provides a much safer buffer between car traffic and bike traffic. My old neighborhood had the typical steel fences, but the restricted street width also meant no dedicated parking spaces and more narrow sidewalks. Already a tight fit, pedestrians have to maneuver around parked cars, which choose the sidewalk as a parking lot after having nowhere to go, while strolling along. Conversely, given enough space, the roads around my apartment have dedicated parking spots along the side of the bike lanes, and even though people still park on the sidewalk, there is adequate space for pedestrian movement.
Along these sidewalks, there are also a few small vehicle lots, built as extensions of the sidewalk, that serve as one of the many hangouts for choreographed dancing that takes place around the city in the evenings. Differences can also be seen in considerations given to the blind. All sidewalks I’ve encountered have perforated “lanes” on the sidewalks that can serve as guides for those who can’t see. Around my old hotel, these lanes were never straight and often in disrepair. Around my apartment, these guides are mostly straight and are rarely in need of repair or obstructed by parked cars. Out of curiosity, while walking home one night, I actually tested out this guide system, and with closed eyes, comfortably walked for 100 yards or so before getting anxious and again opening my eyes.
The larger buffer between moving traffic and the bike lanes, the dedicated parking, and the wider sidewalks all make walking around my new neighborhood a more enjoyable experience, as I spend less time worrying obstacles in my path and more time looking around me. This is purely a reflection of the ease at which I can move through these environments, and excludes my preferences for the types of building in each area, or any reflection on the travel time it takes to get around. The wider streets limit my accessibility to goods by increasing my travel time to get to them. While walking in my new neighborhood is perhaps safer, more beautiful, and for the most part nicer, I do miss having greater access to a wider variety of goods.
*I don’t have any pictures of the old neighborhood, but I’ll try to get some added soon so you can see the differences.