Back to the Future, by Bicycle

When does going backward mean progress? When you’re talking about bicycle use in the city of Beijing.

According to Streetsblog Network member The City Fix,
Chinese officials have woken up to the idea that the city’s traditional
bicycling culture, which has been in sharp decline over the last 20
years, should be restored and fostered:

beijing_nov_07_kf_024.jpgMore bikes are coming to Beijing. (Photo: Karl Fjellstrom, ITDP China)

Liu Xiaoming, the director of the Municipal Communications Commission, said in a Xinhua article
that the government will “revise and eliminate” regulations that
discourage bicycle use and impose greater restrictions on car drivers…

The government also plans to restore bicycle lanes that were torn
down, as well as to build more parking lots for bicycles at bus and
subway stations to encourage additional cycling.  Also an improvement:
The city will make more bikes available for rent to defray the cost of
owning a bike (a new one can cost as little as $20-$40) and allay fears
of bicycle theft, a rampant problem in the city. By 2015, the number of bikes for rent will total 50,000. 

Meanwhile, in a galaxy far, far away, Los Angeles blog Westside Bikeside
has a post that indulges in a little futuristic fantasy, putting
convicted road rager Dr. Christopher Thompson in a quasi–Planet of the
Apes scenario. (Thanks to Stephen Box of SoapBoxLA for pointing us to this one.)

Here’s the idea: Dr. Thompson, as you may have heard, has been sentenced to five years in prison
for his vehicular assault on two people riding bicycles on Mandeville
Canyon Road in Los Angeles. His driver’s license has also been
permanently revoked. The folks at Westside Bikeside are imagining what
would happen if the city of LA underwent a paradigm shift in those five
years, and Dr. Thompson emerged into a landscape that was much
friendlier to bicycles — one of which, of course, would be his most
efficient form of transportation:

To Thompson it really would look like the Planet of the Apes. He
would have left a city where the car is king and its necessity is
unquestioned by most. …He might return to a city which put cyclists and pedestrians, as
vulnerable road users, first. He might return to a city where cycling
is fashionable, and cyclist intimidation, in any form, is

I’d like to announce Bikeside’s Planet of the Apes meta-project.
It’s not really a project — what the hell would a Planet of the Apes
project grant application look like? It’s more of a goal: total,
unfathomable, transformation. Total transformation of LA’s streets;
unfathomable transformation of LA’s minds… We should begin our journey not entirely certain of our
destination, just intention and resolve to work like hell to get it
done.  I say we point to the mountain in the distance and say “that’s
where we’re going, screw the map.” That’s the Planet of the Apes
meta-project — a commitment to all out transformation of LA to a lush,
livable, fun-able, paradise.

Or visionary? To those who would say LA’s sheer size makes bicycling as
transportation impractical, Beijing’s example may be instructive: Los Angeles County contains some 4,061 square miles; the city of Beijing encompasses nearly 6,500 square miles.

  • I never understood why the bike community in the US didn’t acknowledge the GINORMOUS population of cyclists of color around the world before…Like bicycling is always documented as coming straight from Europe to America, with no global context. We Asians had biking down on lockdown a loooong time ago!!!

  • erock

    What kind of nonsense comment was left by Ms Mannnos? Who cares one way or the other if the Asians were biking back in the day. Address the issues of the article at hand. So ridiculous.

  • @erock – I think @Mannos is right on. There are plenty of examples of great urbanism coming from all over the world – from bike-sharing in China to bus-rapid-transit in Brasil to ciclovia in Colombia… and yet urbanists tend to highlight these when they’re done in Europe (ie: Velib bike-share in Paris.) I do love Velib… but let’s make sure to highlight both!

    The same is often true for local news stories – with angles like “Oh my, a white woman is riding the bus!” and “angelenos are riding bikes!” and “businessman walks to work!” when these are just everyday realities for communities of color. In our midst, these communities are already demonstrating low-impact sustainable ways of living in our cities.

    We should be learning lessons from good examples from all over the world – and from folks from all over the world who are in our midst.

  • The reason why I wrote that, Erock, was because only the Chinese government in this article is acknowledging the “traditional cycling culture”, which many blogs that write about international cycling, with a fixation on Europe, and possibly, at times Brazil, typically ignore. You’ll see that in media from even the 1930’s, what with flying pigeons on the rage out in China. I just wanted to point out that we don’t give non-European nations enough credit for their long histories of bicycling, due to a frequent Eurocentric bias in bicycle coverage…



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