28th October 2010

The Yin and Yang of cycling in China

Viv Alexander

Having recently returned from a fascinating holiday in China, I’ve been contemplating my many experiences.  Travelling in China is eye-opening and I wondered how this might relate to our current challenge ‘How can we improve transport in Britain?’ Are there are any lessons there?

china 2010 bike2

In 2005 Katie Melua sang ‘there are nine million bicycles in Beijing’ but many have since abandoned their bikes in favour cars. In Beijing what hits you first is the sheer number of people and volume of traffic;  most of us have probably seen the news reports about the size of Beijing’s traffic jams.  Though restrictions mean that one day a week a certain number of private cars are not allowed to travel, this does little to ease the problem, with the growing number of car owners. china 2010 bike

Chengdu is another city with a growing population and has severe traffic problems with the rush hour(s) nearly ground to a halt but you can’t help notice that in the bike lanes they’re still moving, even though these lanes are littered with scooters and motorbikes too – the sheer number is an amazing spectacle.

In Hangzhou I came across the well developed free bicycle renting system.There are altogether over 1,000 public bicycle spots and visitors can rent a bicycle and tour around the city freely.

Yangshou countryside 2010 on bike

Cycling in Yangshou countryside

While in Yangshou, I had the exhilarating experience of cycling in the town and countryside.  While I approached this with some trepidation, after the groups initial peloton style ‘bolt’ across the traffic in town, I realised that there was an art to the flow of traffic. Nothing moves very fast so you can move into a space and weave around the different forms of transport. It works and after a while I began to relax and feel that there was less chance of being mown down than at home cycling amongst cars rat running through country lanes at 60mph!

So what has this to do with our GeoVation challenge? Well, with a growing population and increasing traffic on the road one of the challenges we, in Britain, face is how to keep us moving. If you have any innovative ideas, using geographic information to help improve the transport experience, then enter the GeoVation Challenge with a chance to win a slice of £150 000 funding to get you started.