From the Expats

Dream to travel with ease

By Daniel Shaw (China Daily)
Updated: 2012-11-12 07:52

Nearly two years into my move to China, I can say with conviction that if I had to do it all over again, I would do one thing differently: buy a bicycle as soon as I arrived.

Dream to travel with ease

Few things have given me more joy in my time here than being able to go out the back door of my apartment building, unlock my bike, hop on it and ride off to some not terribly distant part of the city. I have found no better way to take in the sights, sounds and, yes, even smells of my temporary home. And Beijing, being flat as a pancake in most of its parts, seems as if it were custom-made for bicyclists. Knowing I'd almost never have to ride up a hill, I didn't even bother buying a bike with gears.

But why, I've asked myself several times, did I wait a full year-and-a-half to get one? Well, first, there were safety anxieties. Of all the things in Beijing that have undermined my sense of ease, a significant concern has been drivers' frequent habit of using designated bike lanes as all-purpose shortcuts.

Then there was the city's public transport system, which, like similar systems that exist in most Chinese cities, is admirable. Many people here would probably find this hard to believe, but when a friend of mine was trying to persuade me to move to this country, one of the chief attractions he mentioned was the subway.

And it does make a tremendous difference in my life. What a great comfort it is to know that when traffic has come to standstill on the roads, I can still get to my destination on schedule by taking the subway. This luxury is missing from most US cities, where people who don't own cars are often forced to find their way to a distant bus station and wait for the infrequent arrival of a bus if they want to go somewhere across town. And it's something Chinese leaders would do well to keep foremost in their minds when they consider how they will accommodate the ever-greater numbers of their people who are moving to cities.

It would be a grave mistake for a place with a population as large as China's to tread the same transportation path the United States has. If owning a car were as common among the Chinese as it is in the US, imagine what the consequences would be for air quality, which can already be bad enough on certain days, let alone traffic. Clearly, the country's best option is to continue investing in public transportation.

At the same time, here is another suggestion: Make more room for bikes. As I hinted before, the humble bicycle strikes me as the perfect answer to most complaints about transportation. Like a car, it can be parked close to home and taken out on a whim. Like the subway, it doesn't require a rider to insure it or put fuel into it. Best of all, it doesn't pollute the air.

How can the government encourage people to stow their cars and hop on their bikes more often? One way would be to do more to make sure the two types of vehicles keep a safe distance from each other. In other words, keep those cars out of my bike lane!

The need to improve people's well-being was mentioned many times by President Hu Jintao in his keynote report to the 18th Party Congress.

Having a smooth transportation system that gives people many choices and means of traveling will complement this goal of providing for "people's well-being".

Daniel Shaw is a copy editor at China Daily. He can be contacted at