China was once known as the kingdom of bicycles, but these days the car is the image that best sums up the country’s rapid economic development. The streets of Chinese cities which were once chock-a-block with graceful cyclists are now clogged with snarling traffic jams. But the bike has not been completely relegated to the rubbish bin of China’s history.
On the drive into the centre of Shanghai from the airport, the long lines of traffic would make it easy to believe that most Shanghainese have abandoned their once beloved home-brand Flying Pigeon and Forever bikes for an Audi or a BMW. However, while a luxury car is undoubtedly the most desired symbol of wealth, the average salary last year in Shanghai was 52,655 RMB (£5,226) leaving even a basic model out of reach for most residents, and millions still use pedal power to get around the city.
Prior to moving to Shanghai, I was an avid cyclist and had romantic notions of pedalling shoulder to shoulder with hordes of cycling comrades and humming Katie Melua’s Nine Million Bicycles. The reality is a lot more chaotic and certainly not for the faint-hearted.
The car is king of the road in Shanghai and cyclists have been relegated to the bottom of the vehicular food chain, second only to pedestrians. While I’ve been assured traffic rules do exist in Shanghai, the only rule that I’ve been able to work out is that the bigger you are, the less you have to pay heed to these rules. Red lights are invisible to many bus and car drivers who sail straight through, ignoring the crowds of pedestrians trying to cross the road and honk at cyclists in the bike lanes to get out of their way.
There are also motorbikes and electric bikes, called e-bikes, to contend with too. E-bikes, or silent killers as they have been nicknamed by a friend, make virtually no noise so unless you have your wits completely about you and eyes in the back of your head, you don’t know when one may be about to crash into you or run you off the road.
With its many bike lanes, Shanghai initially looked like a city that was relatively bike-friendly. However, the cars are now the priority of the city’s road builders
To read the whole story, visit here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/bike-blog/2012/sep/11/cycling-china-faint-hearted
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