Ever since the Communist Revolution of 1949, bicycles have been a seemingly indelible part of the Chinese landscape, as endemic as pandas. Now, though, as the pace of life picks up in China’s major cities, urban planners and government authorities have begun treating bicycles as nuisances — antiquated devices that impede the free flow of cars. So far, Shanghai has banned bikes on 54 major roads, and there is no way for cyclists to ride or carry their bikes across the Huangpu River into the city’s new financial and industrial center. Large signs warn against biking in some areas of the city, and fines reinforce the message. The change has come virtually overnight; in 1995, Chinese companies churned out 30 million new bicycles, an all-time high, and riders sometimes pedaled as many as 10 abreast down Shanghai’s main streets. Cyclists and environmentalists are unhappy about the new development, especially because it coincides with an era of ever-worsening vehicle-generated pollution.
Get Grist in your inbox