Review #2 cont’d: Shanghai Bike Lanes

Location French Concession, Shanghai

It was only a couple of decades ago that the bicycle was ubiquitous in China – to the extent that North American school books included photos of hundreds of Chinese people on bikes in their introduction to the country. Now the bicycle has fallen behind as Chinese people turn to vehicles to show off their new-found wealth. In terms of status, it’s understood that luxury car > regular car > moped > bicycle. It’s an unfortunate turn, given all the problems that private auto use brings to a city, but luckily for the Shanghainese, bicycle and moped use had such inertia that they are still very common, especially by North American standards.

Despite major infrastructure being built to accommodate four-wheeled vehicles (more on this in a later post), Shanghai still has enough infrastructure for those who get around on two wheels to make this North American jealous.

Many side streets, by default of their width, cannot comfortably fit cars. Their pavement is so new I could swear it sparkles in some places, but the urban design is decidedly old: these streets were made for walking, and luckily bikes are small and nimble enough to fit – just don’t get any illusions of speeding along at more than 15 km/h.

Narrow street in Shanghai

A narrow street in Shanghai

Some wider streets — what in Vancouver we would call a neighbourhood street — carry two lanes of car traffic in one direction and one lane of bike/moped traffic in the other direction, as seen in the photo at the top of this post. This is a distinctly elegant solution, and it took me a little while to figure out why it works so well: there is no parking on the street. Not for bikes, and not for cars. This makes the street much, much cleaner: traffic flows smoothly for all modes of transport, and if you put two of these streets running in opposite directions a block apart, you’ve got a fairly accessible neighbourhood all around.

Finally, some of the widest streets come with separated lanes for bikes and mopeds. In some cases the separation is achieved with simple steel barricades, and in other places a curb does the trick. It’s worth noting that neither of these barriers would actually stop an errant car at more than 5 km/h, but the overall effect is successful: car drivers stay on their side of the fence; bike and moped riders on theirs; and peace of mind abounds knowing that a collision is that much less likely.

Separated bike lane in Shanghai

Separated bike lane in Shanghai, near Shanghai Old Town

It’s disappointing to think about how far the bike has fallen in China, but I’m hopeful that as the Chinese discover more and more of the perils and annoyances of relying on the automobile, the infrastructure they have in place now will help them switch back to bikes that much more easily.

Up next in the Shanghai series: parking!


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