Little room for bikes in traffic plan, critics say

08:15, December 24, 2010      

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The municipal government's call for people to swap steering wheels for handlebars has appeared halfhearted to many.

The Beijing government issued a package of detailed rules on Thursday to address its traffic gridlock, including measures to improve infrastructure for cyclists, pedestrians and public transport.

A system placing 50,000 bikes at 1,000 hubs along metro lines and key areas will be established by 2015 to provide commuters easy access to bikes for short trips, the new rules said.

A pilot project will put 10,000 bikes in 200 locations and ensure adequate bike parking over the next two years.

The Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport posted a draft of the plan on its website to solicit public opinion from Dec 13 to 19.

Some respondents called for better regulations to prevent cars from driving or parking in pedestrian walkways and bike lanes.

Many have argued the plan does not go far enough to promote bike use.

The draft had focused too much on how to accommodate car users but did not mention the construction of new bike lanes or the protection of existing ones, Suffolk University assistant history professor Xue Yong posted on his blog on Wednesday.

Also disappointed are the city's bike rental companies, most of which have long been struggling to stay afloat.

"What's the point of encouraging people to get back on their bikes, while all the better-off people are eager to get their hands on a car?" a Bike Rental manager surnamed Guo said.

Bike Rental had hardly made a profit since it opened in Beijing in 2005 and had to decrease the number of its locations from 100 to 20, the company's general manager Wang Yong said.

While the bike rental sector was booming two years ago, especially during the Olympic Games, it has continued declining since, Xinhua News Agency reported on Nov 12.

Fortune Bicycle Rental, the sector's former leader in Beijing, was recently dissolved due to the huge losses it suffered over the past two years. In its heyday, it operated 200 hubs.

The company said the business could not be sustained with rental fees, and it was not permitted to sell advertisement space on bikes.

China used to be known as the "kingdom of bicycles". In the 1980s, most people rode bikes to work and for travel.

Currently, 18.1 percent of commuting in the capital is done by bike, compared to 30.3 percent in 2005, the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport said on its website on Aug 26. The commission planned to increase the percentage to 20 by 2015.

From 2005 to 2010, the percentage of people using cars in Beijing grew from 29.8 to 34.2. The number of car owners in the city climbed from 2 million in 2003 to more than 4.76 million now.

Some people gave up commuting by bike because it became too dangerous on roads packed with cars, Zhang Zhuting, a member of the Ministry of Transport's legal consulting committee, said.

Concrete measures are needed to ensure the effective operation of the public bicycling system, and the bike rental industry needs more policy support to survive, he said.

Tsinghua University law professor Yu Lingyun said many European cities, such as Paris and Amsterdam, have long run effective public bike systems.

"They have developed detailed rules and management mechanisms to maintain the system, and their residents obey the rules," Yu said.

"Beijing should learn from their experiences."

Li Yao and Cao Yin contributed to this story.

By Bao Daozu, China Daily

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