Tag Archives: bike lanes

Beijing Bicycle – posted by Lauren

There was a ton of excitement over Portland’s bike share announcement last week, so it only seems fitting to post about Beijing’s bike share system. I’m glad to hear the Portland system will finally be rolling out, and those green bikes are dead sexy. The Tilikum Crossing, bike share, legal weed, y’all are getting all the nice things now that I’m gone.

The logo for Beijing Public Bikes, featured prominently in the campaign for ‘don’t drive to work alone day’ on September 22.

The logo for Beijing Public Bikes, featured prominently in the campaign for ‘don’t drive to work alone day’ on September 22.


The bikes here are red, because everything is red.  

The bikes here are red, because everything is red.

I was debating whether or not to sign up for bike share here. Public transit can get you anywhere you need to go, but I miss riding a bike! The parade blue is gone, but the fall rains have started and the pollution drops after a heavy rain. This past weekend was relatively clear (from rain and smog) so I decided our Sunday outing to the old summer palace should happen by bike.

In my opinion the best feature by far is that you use your transit card to rent a bike. The municipally owned system really is an extension of the transit network.

Good on subways, buses, and public bikes! Modern living indeed.  

Good on subways, buses, and public bikes! Modern living indeed.

But before you can take a bike for a spin you have to enroll your transit card in the bike share system. This can only be done at a few locations during certain hours. They require a 400 yuan refundable deposit (about $60) and some paperwork, which is translated in English. I had my husband Eli with me who speaks Chinese so it was a seamless process. (Yes, I’m completely cheating at this whole being immersed in a foreign language thing. An intern from 2011 recounts what it will be like for the rest of you.)

After your card is activated for bike share all you have to do is swipe it at the docking station. The price is unbelievably cheap. The first hour is free, and every hour after that is 1 yuan (about 15 cents). The maximum amount you can be charged is 10 yuan (about $1.50), for the entire day!


Ready to roll. Note the empty docking stations, this one must be popular.

Ready to roll. Note the empty docking stations, this one must be popular.

As for the bikes themselves, we ran into a few problems. The brakes didn’t really work on the two bikes we selected, but the main issue was the size. I’m 5’9 and Eli is 6’2 and even with the seats as high as they would go we just didn’t fit. Our plan to ride to the summer palace (about 7 miles away) was quickly dashed because it would not have been a comfortable ride. The average height here might be shorter than us, but we have seen plenty of tall people, so I wonder how they manage.

Its got a bell, a basket, a cable lock, and questionable brakes, only an issue if you plan on stopping.

Its got a bell, a basket, a cable lock, and questionable brakes, only an issue if you plan on stopping.

Tall man, little bike.

Tall man, little bike.

We did take a spin around the neighborhood for the requisite photo shoot. There is usually a separate lane for two-wheeled traffic and car parking on major streets, so that is definitely a win. You do have to share this space with motorbikes and utility trikes but it is much less stressful than riding next to traffic. There are also a ton of e-bikes here, used for delivery and everyday transit. Permanent or temporary separation, both are appreciated.

tree separation temp separation



As far as the biking culture in Beijing goes, this recap from 2011 is still accurate. Still no helmets, lights, or cycling clothes in sight. I was struck by the lack of bike racks. On the street where I live there are just painted boxes on the sidewalk. People either don’t lock their bike at all or just lock one of the wheels so it can’t be rolled away. Apparently this is the bike parking situation in Shenzhen as well. This obviously wouldn’t fly in Portland since you could just pick the bike up to steal it. A possible theft deterrent could be that most people here ride rusty old bikes that look like they haven’t been maintained since the 1980s. I’ve seen a couple flashy new ones, but they are few and far between.

bike box

I’m accustomed to real bike racks but bike infrastructure that is just paint, here the parking is just paint but the infrastructure is real.

locked wheel

Apparently this works?

The bike share system debuted in 2011 and now has over 40,000 bikes available at stations concentrated in the central city and a few suburban enclaves. I had trouble finding current information on ridership rates, but this article from 2013 reports that ridership was low in the first year. I see a lot of mostly empty docking stations, so perhaps ridership has gone up in the past two years.

Hopefully this system can help reclaim some of the mode share that was lost to the car takeover. It is really a story that is too sad to tell – the Kingdom of Bicycles reduced to a honking, gridlocked fiasco. Apparently these days it is all about form over function. You’ve got to love the quote from a woman who would rather be crying in a BMW than laughing on a bicycle. Well, she’s got plenty of time to cry when she’s stuck in traffic while the bicycles roll on by.

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I’ve Moved

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.


Divider between bike lane and traffic near my new apartment

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.

dedicated parking and wide bike lane

Dedicated parking and wide bike lane. Near my new place


Near my new apartment. Even with cars on the sidewalk there is still plenty of space for pedestrians

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.


Bike lane next to my apartment. In the evening there are often people playing cards or chess on the divider between the bike lane and the traffic lane (right).

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.

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