Back to the Future, by Bicycle

When does going backward mean progress? When you’re talking about bicycle use in the city of Beijing.

According to Streetsblog Network member The City Fix, Chinese officials have woken up to the idea that the city’s traditional bicycling culture, which has been in sharp decline over the last 20 years, should be restored and fostered:

beijing_nov_07_kf_024.jpgMore bikes are coming to Beijing. (Photo: Karl Fjellstrom, ITDP China)

Liu Xiaoming, the director of the Municipal Communications Commission, said in a Xinhua article
that the government will “revise and eliminate” regulations that
discourage bicycle use and impose greater restrictions on car drivers…

The government also plans to restore bicycle lanes that were torn
down, as well as to build more parking lots for bicycles at bus and
subway stations to encourage additional cycling.  Also an improvement:
The city will make more bikes available for rent to defray the cost of
owning a bike (a new one can cost as little as $20-$40) and allay fears
of bicycle theft, a rampant problem in the city. By 2015, the number of bikes for rent will total 50,000. 

Meanwhile, in a galaxy far, far away, Los Angeles blog Westside Bikeside has a post that indulges in a little futuristic fantasy, putting convicted road rager Dr. Christopher Thompson in a quasi–Planet of the Apes scenario. (Thanks to Stephen Box of SoapBoxLA for pointing us to this one.)

Here’s the idea: Dr. Thompson, as you may have heard, has been sentenced to five years in prison for his vehicular assault on two people riding bicycles on Mandeville Canyon Road in Los Angeles. His driver’s license has also been permanently revoked. The folks at Westside Bikeside are imagining what would happen if the city of LA underwent a paradigm shift in those five years, and Dr. Thompson emerged into a landscape that was much friendlier to bicycles — one of which, of course, would be his most efficient form of transportation:

To Thompson it really would look like the Planet of the Apes. He
would have left a city where the car is king and its necessity is
unquestioned by most. …He might return to a city which put cyclists and pedestrians, as
vulnerable road users, first. He might return to a city where cycling
is fashionable, and cyclist intimidation, in any form, is
unfashionable…

I’d like to announce Bikeside’s Planet of the Apes meta-project.
It’s not really a project — what the hell would a Planet of the Apes
project grant application look like? It’s more of a goal: total,
unfathomable, transformation. Total transformation of LA’s streets;
unfathomable transformation of LA’s minds… We should begin our journey not entirely certain of our
destination, just intention and resolve to work like hell to get it
done.  I say we point to the mountain in the distance and say “that’s
where we’re going, screw the map.” That’s the Planet of the Apes
meta-project — a commitment to all out transformation of LA to a lush,
livable, fun-able, paradise.

Ridiculous? Or visionary? To those who would say LA’s sheer size makes bicycling as transportation impractical, Beijing’s example may be instructive: Los Angeles County contains some 4,061 square miles; the city of Beijing encompasses nearly 6,500 square miles.

  • Riley

    Here’s another fun thought while you’re at it: What would the world look like if the automobile industry and the public transit sector could somehow be compelled to switch advertising budgets for the same five years?

    The automobile manufacturers spend on the order of US$18.5 billions on advertising each year. Paradoxically, the industry’s extensive research has convinced them that portraying the realities of automobile ownership and operation in that advertising is, at best, unsaleable. So instead we get fantasies of single cars “flying” down roads “uncluttered” with other cars, red lights, and pedestrians or bicyclists.

    The problem with that preponderance of one-sided fantasy-based messaging is the way it distorts the public dialog on transportation policy, as well as that policy’s fraternal twin, energy policy.

    So, wouldn’t it be fu if for five years or so we had slick, inescapable, unrelenting advertising that extolled the merits of walking and riding bicycles?

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