November 21st, 2011

Portraits of Beijing Cyclists

Posted in Asia Pacific, Transportation by Christopher DeWolf

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Beijing’s rate of cycling has dropped dramatically over the past two decades, as the economy has developed and more people buy cars. As a result, the city is mired in horrendous gridlock and some of the worst air pollution on earth.

But cycling is still an important mode of transport in China’s capital; according to most estimates, it’s how 25 percent of the population gets around. Now that the government is placing restrictions on car use and ownership, cycling seems to have reversed its decline, even if it still isn’t an attractive option for the newly-monied classes who see car ownership as an essential status symbol.

One thing you continue to see in Beijing that you don’t notice in emerging cycling cities like Montreal is a real diversity of cyclists. People of all ages get around by bike, including people from a wide range of backgrounds: schoolkids, restaurant workers, well-dressed old women, and of course that most global of cycling creatures, the fixie-riding hipster.

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Out for the morning

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2 comments

  1. Zvi says:

    Actually Chris, Montreal is not really an “emerging” cycling city – it has always had a significant number of people getting around by bike – and not only students and hipsters. Of course the numbers have increased more rapidly since the launch of Bixi, but you will not find many spandex-clad “road warriors” here, as you will elsewhere in North America.

    A good indication of ‘cyclability’ in a city is women on bikes – normal women, not the female equivalent of the “road warrior”. Cycle Chic Montreal (http://montrealcyclechic.com/) can attest to that genus here!

    November 24th, 2011 at 8:12 am

  2. Christopher DeWolf says:

    Hi Zvi! I would still consider it an emerging cycling city by virtue of the fact that only a small minority of people get around by bike. Yes, cycling’s popularity has exploded in recent years and it has become a major form of transport in places like the Plateau, but this is all very recent, and there’s still a long way to go. There’s way more diversity among cyclists than even five years ago, but you still don’t see a truly representative range of people. There very few elderly cyclists and a totally disproportionate number of people in their twenties, for instance.

    I guess what I mean is that cycling has only just been accepted as a mainstream form of transport in Montreal and most bicycle infrastructure is fairly recent. Maybe “new generation cycling city” would have been a better term — something that acknowledges that Montreal is a city where cycling has been embraced, but it has yet to become as established as Copenhagen or Beijing.

    November 25th, 2011 at 12:43 am