According to Katie Melua, there are nine-million bicycles in Beijing – and the city is working on bringing bicycles back to the roads by making cycling more safe and thus convenient. But Beijing is also exploring new ways to make cycling more attractive. In May 2019, the city’s first “bicycle highway” was opened to the public. The 6.5 km long partially elevated cycling-only road, which was designed by the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport (BMCT), is connecting Huilongguan and the Zhongguancun High-Tech Area in Northern Beijing, offering safe, convenient and fast traveling to more than 8,000 commuters daily.
Beijing’s First Bicycle Highway
Back to the Kingdom of Bicyle
Not so long ago, bikes were ubiquitous in China. As the dominating form of transportation, for the wealthy and working classes alike, the country had more than 500 million bike owners in the 1980s – making China the unchallenged Kingdom of Bicycle.
Since the country’s opening up policy, not only China’s economy grew with double-digit numbers but also its built environment went through a period of drastic changes. Rapid urbanization and a massive socio-economic transformation led to a growth of China´s urban population along with newly built cities, urban redevelopment and the expansion of road transport infrastructures for a car-oriented future: Expressways, large-scale traffic grids and massive fly-overs were transforming the once “Kingdom of Bicycles” into a “Kingdom of Cars”. With increased purchasing power and the rising role of the car as a status symbol, the four-wheelers became the dominating mode of transport in China, while the use of bicycles declined: In 1986 the mode share of the bicycle in Beijing was at about 65 percent, this number dropped to about 15 percent in 2015. This decline of the bicycle did happen in almost all major Chinese cities.
The rise of the car came along with congestion, traffic related noise and air pollution and high carbon emissions. To tackle these problems, in recent years, many cities have implemented measures to bring the bicycle back to the roads – already in 2008, the city of Hangzhou initiated a public station-based bike-sharing (PBS) scheme for its then 4.8 million inhabitants. Since 2014, free-floating bike-sharing is seen as a key to revive the Kingdom of Bicycle. With millions of colorful bikes and the increasingly changing perception of cycling as a healthy and trendy means of transport, that was highly likely to happen – by the end of 2017, about 16 million bikes “floated” on China’s streets to transport about 130 million registered users. But with the waves of bicycles came problems such as a massive oversupply of bikes, walkways and subway entrances clogged with mountains of bicycles and last but not least the lacking profitability of the bike-sharing companies – with many of them ending in bankruptcy. Even though the reasons for the problems were manifold, it is clear that in many cities, the transport infrastructures were simply not ready for the many bicycles. This includes the lack of cycling paths, parking and service facilities, the lack of integration of bike-sharing with public transport facilities and the lack of road safety and related law enforcement.
To cope with the challenges and to effectively improve the urban transport systems, in recent years many cities have started to develop cycling plans and to construct cycling-infrastructure. Completed in February 2017, the 7.6 km long Bicycle Skyway in the South-Chinese city of Xiamen was the first cycling highway in China, offering cyclists safe commuting by covering five major residential areas and three business centers in the city. Now with its own cycling highway, Beijing made clear: Cycling is on the agenda of the city’s policy makers and transport planners. But the cycling highway is not the only measure to promote sustainable transport. According to the city’s 13th Five-Year Plan, Beijing aims to build 3.2 km of bike lanes within the city’s Third Ring Road by 2020.
Even though, the way towards making Chinese cities convenient cycling-cities and to fully revive the Kingdom of Bicycle is still long, the trend is clear: China’s policy makers will further promote cycling and walking as a key to ensure more sustainable and climate-friendly urban mobility.
With the facilitation of political dialogue, policy advice, technical exchange and research as well the implementation of joint pilot projects, GIZ supports the Chinese government on the promotion of integrated sustainable mobility planning and the promotion of cycling and walking.
If you would like to know more about what we are doing on low carbon transport, please feel free to get in touch with us by contacting Mr. Sebastian Ibold, Project Director of the Sino-German Cooperation on Low Carbon Transport or Ms. Yingjie Wu, Project Manager of the Sino-German Cooperation on Low Carbon Transport.
In addition, here you can find more information about the evolution of free-floating bike-sharing in China.