Tag Archives: bikes

Laowais on bikes, Chinese folks are nice

A large part of what made our first week here so wonderful is the kindness we’ve been shown by locals. People here are so willing to go out of their way to help out a few confused laowai (foreigners). For example, the well-dressed businessman that helped Santiago and me get into one of the sky bridges of the Linked Hybrid complex was clearly on his way out when he heard us asking for directions. He stopped what he was doing and brought us to an elevator hidden in the back of a cafe, up 20 stories, and through a gallery into the skybridge. He didn’t speak any English, and he didn’t stick around when we got to the top; he just wanted to help us catch a great view.

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View from the skybridge

The owner of our hostel, Linda, is no exception. After a long conversation about our options for acquiring bikes, many of which being too expensive or requiring a Chinese bank account (bikeshare apps), she offered the hostel’s rental bikes for AMAZINGLY cheap. The posted rental price for the bikes is 30 yuan per day, but since they almost never get rented out, she agreed to give us the bikes until the end of August for only 50 yuan total.

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Bike/ped overpass

Biking in Beijing can be chaotic, but not as much as you might expect from seeing videos or pictures of crowded Chinese streets. Yes, it’s crowded. Yes, it’s a little hectic. But for the most part, people bike much more slowly here than they do in Portland. Not only that, but the bike lanes are huge, and it’s pretty normal and expected for bikers to overflow into car lanes when necessary. As long as you’re paying attention (and ready to brake), it’s totally manageable.

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On the second day of having a bike, I woke up ready to rush to CAUPD before free breakfast ended, only to find that my front tire was very flat. The hostel staff couldn’t find their bike pump, so we decided to ask around for one. Thanks to my Chinese dictionary app (Pleco) and a little bit of pantomime, we were able to ask some of the neighbors if they had one. We mostly got “mei you” (not have) until we came upon a very elderly woman lingering in the street, about to go back into the tiny alley that led from the hutong to her home. Once she figured out what we were asking about, her face lit up and she waved us to follow her into the tiny alley. A man who was presumably her son also came out to help find the pump. All we could do was say “very thank you,” and smile and nod like dorks. Yet another example of locals going out of their way to accommodate us. I’m really looking forward to more of these heartwarming (and often hilariously awkward) interactions as we explore China in the coming months.

 

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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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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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