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Bend it like Beijing’s bicycles

This year the bicycle is a big part of the plan for clean air and smooth traffic to host a ‘green’ Olympics. Beijing has 8-10 million bicycles — over half the size of its 17 mn population. A report by Reshma Patil.Check Spl: Beijing Olympics 2008

world Updated: Aug 06, 2008 16:27 IST
Reshma Patil

An Indian doctor in Beijing, the booming capital of the world’s second-largest car market after the US, made two priority purchases when he moved here after four years in New Delhi: toothpaste and a bicycle.

The 30-year-old cycles everywhere though the city offers air-conditioned taxis, wide new roads and three subway lines readied in time for the Olympic Games starting Friday.

“Delhi has no respect for a cyclist. It can be frightening…I was often the only cyclist on its roads,” he recalled to HT, requesting that his name be withheld because his office has not authorised him to speak to the media. “In Beijing, I never need public transport or a car. There’s a bicycle lane on every road, and cycle parking at every tourist site, mall or office.”

The Indian Institute of Technology campuses and Infosys in Bangalore have already proved that modern Indians are not embarrassed to cycle to work. So as Mumbai and Delhi redevelop transportation, it is worthwhile studying how the hazards of rapid urbanisation have now forced Beijing to encourage bicycles along with its futuristic jigsaw of interconnected public transport.

As 1,000 new cars hit its road daily, the erstwhile bicycle kingdom where Chinese once suffered long waitlists to own a Flying Pigeon, grapples with traffic congestion and pollution. As a byproduct of its boom, bicycle lanes had started shrinking and accident rates among first-generation car drivers increased. China became the world’s largest emitter of heat-trapping greenhouse gases blamed for global warming — India is the fourth-largest.

But this year the bicycle is a big part of the plan for clean air and smooth traffic to host a ‘green’ Olympics. The city has 8-10 million bicycles — over half the size of its 17 million population.

Cycle transport planned to the smallest detail is a long-term alternative compared to the current two-month order to take half the city's 3.3 million cars off the roads until September 20.

Since four million extra commuters will use public transport in August, 50,000 bicycles will be up for rent at 200 venues, with 2,500 new cycle parking lots citywide. Timings for malls and public offices have been eased so bikers can reach an hour later.

On Tuesday, the State-run China Daily reported that French retailer Carrefour sells 50 bicycles daily, and double the number on weekends. Most shoppers arrive in cars.