Beijing plans to revive bikes for better traffic, blue sky
In 2009, the management of traffic in Beijing was a somewhat helpless and awkward: on the one hand, in order to keep the sky blue and relieve traffic jams, the government encouraged the development of public transport and restricted traffic based on the last digits of license plate numbers; on the other hand, the number of private cars grew at an unprecedented rate, and the number of private cars exceeded 4 million, which resulted in the nearly continuous traffic jam. Meanwhile, the proportion of bicyclists keeps dropping year by year.
During the convening of the "two sessions," the traffic problem was put on the agenda again. The NPC members and members of the National Committee of the CPPCC had suggested that the government should encourage people to use green means of transportation, such as bicycles, while promoting bus transport as a priority. The relevant department of the Municipal Government announced that the development of bicycle transportation had been put on the agenda. Bicycle transportation shall be included in the transportation planning of the city, and by 2015, the proportion of bicyclists shall reach 23%.
In May of last year, Ark Public Bicycle Rental Company launched the public bicycle month free experience activity, during which people can rent bicycles for free.
In the "traffic jam" era for automobiles, could the bicycle, once among the old "Three Articles," be revived not as not a fitness tool but a tool of urban transport?
The bicycle shall be included in the transportation planning
Because people are longing for private cars, more and more of the road space is being occupied by cars, while there is less and less room for bicycles, and at the same time, the proportion of bicyclists to people driving cars keeps falling. According to the data, between January and April, 2009, bicyclists only accounted for about 19.7% of Beijing residents, a drop of 0.6% compared with the same period in 2008.
A relevant government official said that according to the Action Plan about Constructing the Humanistic Transportation, Technological Transportation and Green Transportation (between 2009 and 2015) released by Beijing Municipal Government, by 2015 the pattern for Beijing's overall transportation pattern should be as follows: bus transport 45%, car 22%, taxi 8%, and bicycle 23%.
The official said that according to the rapid rise in the number of automotive vehicles, we must try to keep the proportion of bicyclists above 20%, while dramatically reducing the proportion of cars. The government will adopt measures to guide and encourage people to ride bicycles.
A Beijing transportation department official said that bicycle transportation will be included in the transportation planning of the city. In order to promote bicycle transportation and protect the right-of-way of bicyclists, Beijing shall build two demonstration plots for bicycle transportation.
There is a proposal to revise bicycle transportation provisions
It is said that with the rise in the number of motor vehicles and the drop in the proportion of bicyclists in recent years, many bicycle lanes on main roads have gradually become the side roads for automotive vehicles. In addition, the bicycle lanes on some roads have been specified as bus lanes, and although there are bicycle lanes on some roads, the bicycles have to share the lanes with the buses at the public harbors.
In regards to these problems, Beijing will revise or abolish the management provisions which go against bicycle transportation, and reserve the bicycle lanes at both sides of the road in order to protect bicyclists' right-of-way.
In Hutongs, bicycles will be given special priority in traffic
As planned, Beijing municipality will put in place a special traffic system for bicycles, which will be based on the Hutongs and central business zone within 2rd Ring Road as well as the newly-built residential areas. For instance, the existing road width will be maintained in areas which have already been designated as historical and cultural conservation areas as well as areas within the 2nd Ring Road, especially the imperial city. Therefore, in order to protect the original appearance of the general structure of the Hutongs, the Department of Transportation will allocate the road resource to pedestrians, bicycles and minibuses, in that order. According to the plan, relevant departments, including transportation and planning, will set up special priority traffic lanes for bicycles or pedestrians based on the existing Hutongs and neighborhood roads. The newly-built residential areas will also build sound traffic areas for bicycles.
Bicycle parking lots will be set up in transfer stations
Whether it is convenient to transfer to other means of transportation is often the biggest consideration for citizens in choosing whether or not to use bicycles. Thus, Beijing will set up a road transport operating system combining various transport modes, such as motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians, and the system will be characterized by a clear division of responsibilities and also by high efficiency.
The Department of Transportation will create sound conditions for citizens taking bicycles for short distance travel and transferring to public transport by setting up bicycle lots at main passenger flow distribution centers, public transportation centers and pivotal transfer stations in central city in order to improve the transfer between different modes of transportation. Besides, along with the new subway or railway lines, transfer and bicycle parking lots will be subsequently constructed.
149 more bicycle renting locations will be set up this year
From home to bus stop or subway station, and from bus stop or subway station to your destination, we are often confronted with "the last one kilometer" which could hardly be covered by public transport, and is also called the death space for public transport. Renting a bicycle is often the best choice to cover this death space. The government will encourage and support the bicycle rental industry, and by increasing the number of places to rent bicycles, citizens can be drawn to use bicycles to cover the last one kilometer.
Towards this end, Beijing will support the bicycle rental service in key areas such as subway stations and transport hubs. By 2010, there will be about 500 rental places with 20,000 bicycles; by 2015, there will be about 1000 places with 50,000 bicycles. This year, Beijing will set up 149 pilot public bicycle rental places at the suitable subway stations, such as Line 4.
Voice from a Member of the Beijing Committee of CCPPC
Hardware should be guaranteed by the government in order to encourage bicycle usage
Guo Geng, Member of the Beijing Committee of CCPPC and vice director of Beijing Milu Ecological Experimental Center, made a proposal advising the government to strengthen its guidance on bicycle transportation.
When our reporter told Guo Geng that the municipal government decided to encourage low carbon emission means of transportation, such as bicycles, and ensure that bicycle users take up no less than 20 percent of the modes of transportation in 2015, Guo Geng welcomed the governmental action to promote bicycle transportation. "As a low-carbon and green mode of transportation, the more bicycles are used the more air pollution and traffic congestion will be reduced."
According to Guo Geng, currently there have been safety concerns raised about bicycle transportation. "My wife and I both go to work and back on bicycles, and we feel it is more and more dangerous. The traffic lanes for bicycles are always encroached by bus stops or parking space for automotive vehicles, and people have to take the risk of going into the lanes used by motor vehicles." Guo Geng mentioned that it was of no use to encourage citizens to ride bicycles by appealing and instructions, and said that the government should enhance hardware construction and build special bicycle lanes. Thus different vehicles would go on their own path, and each would be in its proper place.
A rough plan for the pilot project
Create a bicycle lane network in the demonstration zones
Reporters learned that the Beijing municipal government will open two bicycle traffic demonstration zones in 2010 for the purpose of encouraging more people to choose bicycles as their commuting tools and guaranteeing the rights of cyclists. The two zones will be located in the Guanganmennei Street and the western part of Zhongguancun. Currently, rough plans have taken shape although specific layouts have not yet been completed.
According to Duan Liren, vice director and general engineer of the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau, first, the demonstration zones will focus on protection of cyclists' rights. In the two zones, traffic facilities will be installed on each side of every road to form bicycle lanes and motor vehicles and buses will be prevented from occupying these bicycle lanes. Meanwhile, these bicycle lanes will form a wide network so as to guarantee quick and convenient travel for bicyclists.
Second, the relevant departments will work to provide conveniences to cyclists who are going to transfer to a bus or subway train, and will build things such as bicycle parking lots near bus stops and subway stations.
And third, relevant departments will make some special arrangements in traffic management, such as relieving the overlap between bicycle and motor vehicle traffic and guarantee the safety of cyclists by marking some stop lines for cyclists at intersections and also adjusting and improving traffic lights.
Investigation and interview
Bike paths become parking lots
Recently, the reporter visited the western area of Zhongguancun, which is a bicycle demonstration zone. The so-called western area of Zhongguancun starts from the Zhongguancun Street in the East and extends to Suzhou Street in the West, the North Fourth Ring Road in the North and the South Street of Haidian County in the south. Previously, it was the busiest industrial base of IT in Beijing, with the Hailong Plaza and the Dinghao shopping mall located in the northeast, and the newly-built New Zhongguancun Shopping Center and other leisure and shopping places in the southeast. There is also a concentration of office buildings in the center of the western area.
The reporter found that many residents drive to the western area of Zhongguancun for shopping and work because people can both work and shop in this area which results in a shortage of parking spaces nearby. Take No. 1 North Street, Zhongguancun as an example, the reporter joined a long queue once he drove onto the street. There were residents breaking the rules and parking their cars on the bicycle path that is narrow even without these motor vehicles. Though guards were directing the car fleet to park in the underground parking lot, there were still many drivers detouring on the road in the hope of parking their cars on the roadside without paying anything.
There are not many people riding bicycles in the Zhongguancun West Zone. Several young men riding bicycles who all came from universities nearby reflected that although there are non-motor vehicle lanes on some wide roads in the zone, they often have to move from non-motor vehicle lanes to motor vehicle lanes because of the cars that illegally park on non-motor vehicle lanes. In addition, there is only one traffic light at many of the road crossings that do not have a left-turn light, so cyclists turning left at the crossing are often taking a risk intersecting the vehicles going straight.
The reporter found that there is in fact Subway Line 4 and 10 in the southern and eastern areas of the Zhongguancun West Zone, but some car owners are unwilling to commute to work by subway. "It takes me nearly 20 minutes to walk from the Zhongguancun Station to my office, and taking a taxi is wasteful. Comparatively, driving my car here is a better choice," said Mr. Ma who works in the Fortune Plaza in the central area of the Zone. If a bicycle demonstration zone with special bicycles lanes is established in the future along with the sharp rise in car parking rates, he will still consider choosing the subway before switching to bicycle riding.