What I can’t keep my mind off of is transportation! I love looking at how people get around – do they look comfortable, do they look stressed, or are they going about their day and enjoying their travel? In Shenzhen people are everywhere. The sidewalks are crowded and the streets are overflowing with cars, people, buses, scooters, and bikes. If you give people the space, they will be there. Yet, with all the people in China, limited space, and a low car ownership (11% according to Ministry of Public Security statistics), the majority of the space on city streets has been planned for cars.
Shenzhen began to develop in the early 80s. The city was designed with the car on the forefront of the plans and it was at the peak of the economic boom in China. I have found it difficult to walk around some parts of Shenzhen. There are many physical barriers and bollards separating people from streets, only some of the intersections have ramps on them, and broken sidewalks are in abundance. The barriers and bollards are used to prevent cars and scooters from riding on the sidewalks. I don’t know the solution for this issue, but police enforcement to change the behavior of the drivers might result in change.
If I find it difficult as an able-bodied person, I can’t imagine what it’s like for someone with a physical disability or even a stroller. Throughout the city and others in China, the sidewalks have a strip of textured concrete indicating to someone who is vision impaired that this is the correct route to take. They thought this through, and from what I can tell, it’s a mainstream form of transportation planning throughout China. Other than this textured strip, many other details have gotten lost. While ADA in the US is not perfect, it has paved the way for people to get around more easily. There are some details that I wish were applied here, including the minimum walkway width of 5 feet and required curb ramps at intersections.
At some of the busiest intersections, white fence-like barriers are placed all over the intersection to prevent people from crossing the road. Instead of providing street-level crosswalks, a series of pedestrian tunnels were built to cross the roads. These tunnels are dark, uninviting, and are uncomfortable places to walk. It’s quite confusing to navigate and it requires you to have the ability to walk down stairs. I have no idea what it costs or how long it takes to build tunnels like that, but I think a better solution would be to provide crosswalks, refuge islands, and other infrastructure at these intersections instead of requiring people to travel underground.
In China, I have ridden on some of the best metro systems. You can take the subway anywhere and everywhere. It is super easy to navigate, the user experience as been well thought out, and the system is very efficient. I’m definitely not saying the transportation system is bad here, but I do wish some of the same thoughts were spent on moving pedestrians around on city streets. I love walking around my neighborhood and throughout the city! There is so much to look at, different smells to smell, and people to watch. Shenzhen is a great city to enjoy by foot, but it would be much more enjoyable if you didn’t continually have to watch your step or figure out how to maneuver around the many barriers.