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Beijing is exploring methods of reducing traffic congestion by improving amenities for millions of cyclists to reduce dependency on the automobile, as Zhang Yuchen reports.
Zhao Liman grew up in China's "golden age" of the bicycle, during the 1970s and 80s, and has fond memories of cycling in a city packed with bikes.
From the age of 7, the native Beijinger was traversing her local hutong, the alleys that once dominated the center of the city, and cycling to school so she could squeeze in an extra 15 minutes of sleep. "My classmates and I would cycle wherever we went, either to the Fragrant Hills in autumn time or to the Summer Palace during the summer - about 30 km from downtown area where I lived," said Zhao. "We just had standard bikes at that time, without any of the special features you see on some bikes today."
After graduation, Zhao who is now in her 40s, lived overseas for 10 years. When she returned to the Chinese capital in 2006, she was astonished to see that "the roads were full of cars", so much so that Beijing was no longer a peddler's paradise.
However, both the municipal and central governments have indicated their determination to bring back the most people-friendly mode of transport as part of the city's development plan.
Earlier this year, Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport went public with its plan to regulate the city's network of 1,400 km of roads, after inspecting the condition of hundreds of cycle lanes and sidewalks and widening some of those in the busiest locations.
Motorized bikes and other vehicles often clog up Beijing's bicycle lanes but the capital is taking steps to improve conditions for cyclists. [Wang Jing/ China Daily]
Meanwhile, three government bodies - the Ministry of Finance, the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development - put forward a joint policy initiative in September, suggesting that by 2015, cities with a population of 10 million or more should encourage cycling and walking until they account for 45 percent of the traffic flow.
"The turnaround reflects public attitudes toward the sustainability of city development and 'green traffic'," said Zhao Jie, director of the Urban Transport Institute at the China Academy of Urban Planning & Design.
During the 2008 Beijing Olympics Games, a public bike rental project was started in the city. After showing ID and paying a deposit, residents were allowed to use a public bike for as long as they chose. However, despite a surge of popularity during the Games and the success of such initiatives in European cities such as Amsterdam, the project fell into abeyance post-Games as residents simply got back in their cars.
The municipal government is still making efforts to promote the system though, by opening it up to non-Beijingers. Since October, people without a Beijing hukou, or resident's permit, and foreigners residing in the city have been allowed to hire the brightly colored bikes, after payment of a deposit of 200 to 400 yuan ($32 to $64).