China, with a total of 10.5 Gt of CO2 in 2018, is the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG). Transport accounts for about 10 percent of those emissions and in particular road transport poses a big challenge to the people: The number of vehicles on China’s roads has increased from 27 million vehicles in 2004 to 240 million vehicles in 2018. The country’s road network is already approaching the limit of its capacity and continuing rapid urbanization and the further growing motorization in cities come along with significant increase in traffic volume and greenhouse gas emissions, congestion, air pollution, traffic accidents as well as related economic losses and overall reduced life quality. The COVID-19 epidemic has so far accelerated this development and led to decreasing shares of public transport, growing car ownership and shares of trips with the private car.
In particular the promotion of biking and walking as healthy and climate-friendly modes is widely considered as key to make transport more sustainable and climate-friendly and thus has an increasingly important role for decarbonizing the transport sector – worldwide and in China.
In Chinese cities, until the 1990s, bikes were the predominant mode of transport (e.g. in Beijing 1986 65%, 2016 16% commutes by bike) but with the rapid economic and urban development, the establishment of car-friendly cities led to the increase of private car ownership and vice versa and thus the decline of cycling.
To reverse this trend and contribute to an institutional environment encouraging cycling and walking – so called active mobility modes – in China, Zhong Hong Wang, the news agency led by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) together with SinoCarbon Innovation & Investment Co., Ltd., the China Academy of Transportation Sciences (CATS) of the Chinese Ministry of Transport (MoT) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH hosted the China Active Mobility Development Alliance Online Workshop on 28th January 2021.
In the workshop, more than 60 representatives from various institutions including the Research Institute of Highway (RIOH) of the MoT, the City of Xiamen, Tsinghua, Tongji and Lund University, Didi Chuxing, Meituan and CIFF among others came together to discuss the establishment of a national-level research and planning institution – called China Active Mobility Alliance – aiming at steering the promotion of Active Mobility throughout the country. The establishment of the Alliance is planned for 2021 and 2022.
What approaches and tools are needed to further promote Active Mobility in Chinese cities and integrate it into China’s overall policy and planning frameworks? All the speakers’ and experts’ contributions emphasized the urgent importance of further promoting Active Mobility in China and shared diverse ideas on how this can and should be done:
1. Developing policy frameworks to increase the share of walking and cycling: To cut emissions from transport, to make urban mobility and the cities as whole more sustainable, the holistic and ambitious promotion of Active Mobility needs to be prioritized and well-integrated into existing national policy frameworks. Under the umbrella of the China Active Mobility Alliance, research-based suggestions on policies and planning frameworks can be provided to the relevant authorities.
2. Fostering a multi-stakeholder discourse about Active Mobility: To make sure that planners can create convenient and safe cycling and walking infrastructure that is oriented at the citizens’ needs, a deep reflection and exchange about the concept and meaning of “Active Mobility” is needed. Participatory discourses with a wide range of stakeholders from different walks of life including policymakers, urban and transport planners, the industry, researchers, barrier-free transport associations and the general public, are crucial to ensure that Active Mobility can thrive. The China Active Mobility Alliance aims at providing the platform for these discourses where diverse actors can share their knowledge, views and experiences.
“How do we actually understand Active Mobility and what are its core values? Walking and cycling, be it called Active Mobility or slow mobility, places people in the center of the transport system. That is the value we want in the future.”Mr. Zhuo Jian (School of Urban Planning, Tongji University)
3. Jointly Promoting Active Mobility: Active mobility development should be based on a deep collaboration between different stakeholders in the whole industry chain. In particular international exchange and cooperation on approaches, methods and best practices is key to systematically promote Active Mobility and the sustainable urban transformation. Especially valuable for Chinese cities is the close exchange and collaboration with countries with a strong “cycling culture”, such as Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands.
4. Building up on Active Mobility Best Practices: In many Chinese cities, there are already advanced and well-accepted approaches and best practices for promoting active mobility. This includes both station-based and free-floating bike-sharing systems of best practice infrastructure solutions such as “cycling highways” (Xiamen or Beijing) or cycling and walking lanes that offer routes to and around tourist sites and nature parks. These examples are a solid basis to learn from and build on for further strengthening Active Mobility in China and around the globe.
5. Professionalizing Active Mobility: To guarantee that Active Mobility becomes a core part of China’s transport planning, it needs to be integrated into the education system:
“It is not that there is a lack of expertise among the Chinese transport planners in the field of Active Mobility, but are the cities ready? We need professionalization and training regarding this topic to create change. In the education system, cycling has been marginalized. (…) Such training courses are great opportunity to share the resources and experiences on cycling. I hope that experts and planners use these opportunities to teach and share their cycling knowledge.”Ms. Zhao Chunli (Lund University)
The workshop participants agreed to join forces to bring forward Active Mobility in China as key to make the cities more attractive, transport more sustainable and eventually to reach the 2030 carbon dioxide emission peak and 2060 carbon neutrality target, announced by Chinese president Xi Jinping in late 2020. The participants further agreed that Active Mobility has the potential to transform the cities as whole and last but not least that Active Mobility – cycling and walking – does not only represent a way to travel more sustainable but is a lifestyle!
If you are interested in knowing more about the China Active Mobility Alliance, please feel free to contact Ms. Dr. Marie Peters (email@example.com), technical advisor specializing in urban transport at GIZ China.
China Academy of Transportation Sciences CATS