Beijing: Revenge of the Bicycle

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 8/20/2007 11:07:00 AM
There's less than a year to go to the start of the 2008 Olympics in China yet the Communist leadership is still tinkering with ways to make Beijing's legendarily poor air tolerable. It seems to me that the Chinese leadership has got the environmental question exactly backwards. Just a few days ago, it experimented with banning 1.3 million cars from motoring around Beijing to see if doing so could ease air pollution woes. Fair enough; other countries hosting the Games have tried the same tactic. The authorities' latest trick may take the cake, however.

As you know, Beijing--like other Chinese cities--was filled with comrades riding bicycles in the not-so-distant past. (As an aside, I've even got music video "evidence" c/o Wham's 1984 Freedom video shot largely in Beijing. Dontcha miss that Andrew Ridgeley?) As privately-owned cars became more common in China, deteriorating air quality and kamikaze-style driving antics made bicycling a rather dangerous proposition. Now, however, they're trying to promote the use of bicycles again to lessen congestion and air pollution. I'm hardly a dyed-in-wool environmentalist, but perhaps China would've been better off over the years, at least in the congestion and air pollution departments, if it took a more proactive role in promoting cycling with some semblance of urban planning and not leaving cyclists to become roadkill fodder. What is progress, indeed? From our favorite official publication China Daily:
Wanna tour Beijing? Rent a bike.

The Olympic city plans to put 50,000 bicycles for rent across the city ahead of the Games to curb pollution and ease congestion.

Brand new bikes will be available at 230 outlets close to subway stations, commercial districts, Olympic venues, hotels and office buildings as well as in big communities, according to a "rent a bike" program carried out by Beijing Bicycle Rental Services, a Beijing-based company.

The company has so far put 5,000 bikes for rent at 30 franchise outlets close to the Beijing Workers Stadium, the Drum Tower, the Forbidden City and the Xidan commercial street, according to the company's website.

Before next August, the network will be expanded to cover major communities and all the Olympic venues, said Wang Yong, general manager of Beijing Bicycle Rental Sevices. "Organizations and individuals are welcome to join our service network for free, as long as they can provide an area about the size of one parking space."

Wang said his company would provide all the bikes for rent, and franchise outlets would get 1 yuan a day for each bike they operate as running costs.

"The outlets will also get profit sharing at the end of each month, based on their own business incomes," he said. "Not every outlet can make a profit, as people can rent a bike at one outlet and drop it somewhere else close to their destinations."

The bicycle rental program is also sponsored by the Beijing Environment Protection Bureau as well as the anti-theft arm of the municipal public security bureau, because bicycles are frequently stolen in the city.

"This is like a centralized management of bicycles so that citizens won't have to worry about thefts," said police officer Wang Xiaobing.

To embrace next year's Olympic Games, Beijing, a city with 3 million motor vehicles and more than 4 million drivers, is working all-out to ease congestion and curb pollution.

Monday is the last day of Beijing's four-day experiment to test whether pulling 1.3 million cars off its roads each day would prove effective in reducing air pollution during the Games.

Drivers with even-numbered license plates, excluding taxis, buses and emergency vehicles, were told to stay off the roads on Friday and Sunday or face fines. Odd-numbered cars were banned on Saturday and Monday.

Experts say pulling 1.3 million motor vehicles off the roads in Beijing each day can reduce exhaust emissions by 40 percent.

Though Beijing's sky remained mostly gray and misty as a result of stuffy, humid late summer weather, nearly everyone felt the roads were smoother. "Going to work by bus took me only 15 minutes," said Zhang Jianguo, a government employee. "Driving took almost the same time."