Bicycle Diaries: Shanghai bike lanes

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Shanghai bike lanes

plans to improve
the streets for bikers

Shanghai Daily, 20 March 07: ...The city is renovating a 300-kilometer network of "cycling arteries," covering at least 60 percent of local roads open to cyclists, and plans to separate bicycles from motorbikes and scooters in some busy areas. The government also plans to follow what London does: Using colorful road material to pave cycling lines and make them more noticeable. The efforts were inspired by a recent government-based survey showing nearly 30 percent of locals use bikes, motorbike or scooters as their regular transport.

However, cyclists in Shanghai face "multiple challenges" - fewer and narrow lanes, car exhaust fumes, sharing roads with motorbikes and rampant bike thieves. There are no official statistics for the city's total number of cyclists because the Chinese government puts cyclists, scooters and motorbikes in the same category.

"We believe bicycles are still very important in locals' lives," Yuan Wenping, a chief engineer of Shanghai Engineering Administrative Bureau, said yesterday. Asked by the city leaders to draw up a new cycling plan, Yuan and his colleagues have worked out a "no-block" cycling network through 2020. The network will incorporate 25 "cycling arteries" - 13 south-north and 12 west-east - within the Outer Ring Road, which encloses the 600-square-kilometer downtown area.

Each of the arteries - either one-way or two-way cycling lanes alongside vehicle lanes - cross up to 10 roads. Most roads are close to the city's Inner Ring Road, Yan'an Road and South-North Elevated Road ... Yuan said: "The network will enable cyclists to reach most downtown spots on pedals."... Currently, most cycling arteries feature lanes that are not linked or too narrow, causing difficulty for long-distance cyclists.

...Over the past decade, cycling has been banned on more than 70 kilometers of downtown main roads, such as Huaihai Road, Yan'an Road, Zhongshan Road E1, Nanjing Road and parts of Siping Road. The former cycling lanes were used to carry the rapid increase of vehicles, which include both private and government-funded cars.

Bicycles were a very desirable and convenient transport in China in the 1950s or 1960s, when a typical bike cost around 170 yuan (US$21) - about five times more than an ordinary worker's salary. Today, a standard bike sells for around 300 yuan, but the city's average salary has climbed to more than 2,000 yuan.

In many western cities such as New York, cycling is a form of sport, and most people take subway or bus to work every day. In China, however, many people still follow the tradition of using bikes every day because it's cheap, easy to use and quick.

Difficulties facing today's cyclists include the mixture of motorbike and cycling lanes as well as errant drivers, making cycling a "dangerous game" in the city. Another problem is the rampant rate of bike theft, and what the police can do is very limited.

As more and more subway lines and vehicles appear, the bicycle's role may not appear as powerful as 50 years ago in China. But one thing is for sure: the government will not ban cycling on most downtown roads.

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