Bicycles in China are not environmentally friendly (1) – Flat roads

I didn’t know where to start with the reports on my latest trip to China until I saw Kelly’s excellent post the other week on Post-Avatar Depression Support. In that post she links to a Seeking Alpha post entitled Are We Exacerbating China’s Pollution?, which then points the reader at these pictures of industrial pollution in China.

To be fair, the Seeking Alpha post does start with the words “America used to mistreat her land and water like this.”, and one could easily substitute almost any European nation for America in that statement.

This series of posts isn’t aimed at knocking China, (the wife wouldn’t let me). I love China. The intention is simply to relay what I have seen with my own eyes and have learned by my own recent experience, to try to put it into context from the perspective of the world in which we live, and to look to how things might develop and/or improve in the future, if they can.

So where do the bicycles fit into this ?

The Chinese, along with many other Oriental nations, have had a long-standing love affair with the bicycle. It is a cheap, light, manoeuvrable and easily maintained mode of transport. In recent years the gradual increase in relative wealth of your average Chinese has allowed many of them to “upgrade” to (at first) petrol powered scooters and motorbikes and, more latterly, electric powered scooters. Those with even more money, of course, have cars.

But the bicycle in its many forms is still ubiquitous, and many of the roads in China are designed with four carriageways; one in each direction for four (or more) wheeled motor vehicles and, outside of those, one in each direction for “less-than-four” wheels, in various states of disrepair. The outer carriageways also act as feeder lanes for access to properties and smaller side turnings.

Chinese scooters

Ubiquitous Chinese transport

Zhuxi Avenue, Nanning

Zhuxi Avenue, Nanning, Dec 2009 - showing the four carriageway style

This type of road development works well as, in the main, it keeps larger and faster vehicles away from the various types of cycles thereby improving road safety. Anyone who has ever been to China can stop laughing now as I will, no doubt, be posting about Chinese driving styles at a later date. (You know what I mean !)

Bicycles, scooters and electric scooters, however, are not particularly good at going up hills very fast and the large number of cyclists (in their various forms) would find it incredibly hard work and slow going if the roads were, for instance, like those in Britain where almost nobody except Sir Chris Hoy uses a bicycle because of the undulating terrain and the incredible thigh muscles that one consequently develops, and the battery of an electric scooter would run out within about a mile and a half.

So what does China do ?

The Romans, marvellous technicians that they were, built straight roads. The Chinese, showing their caring Communist side for the benefit of the common person, build flat roads. Everywhere.

[Well almost everywhere. There are some new roads which go up hills, but they lead to expensive new developments where the property prices dictate that you wouldn’t be seen dead in anything less than a new Mercedes, so nobody needs to worry about cyclists anyway. In fact the hills probably help to keep the riff-raff away. (There are always two sides to Communism.)]

For the purposes of this series of posts…. “everywhere“.

Have you ever been to Guangxi Province in China ? It’s one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring places on earth !

Li River - Guangxi - May 2008

Li River - Guangxi - May 2008

Ok, so as you head nearer the sea a lot of the karst landscape is smoothed out somewhat, it’s not all quite as hilly as that and there are much better pictures available, but you get my drift. It is a place where flat roads do not naturally belong.

Welcome to the outskirts of Guangxi Qinzhou Free Trade Port Area.

Route of new road being prepared for construction

Route of new road being prepared for construction

In this picture a new flat road is being constructed, and the hillside in the distance is being prepared for removal. But this is by far and away not the only hillside to suffer in this area….

In the next post in this series we will see some of the devastation that is being caused to the natural environment in southern Guangxi province.

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2 Responses to “Bicycles in China are not environmentally friendly (1) – Flat roads”

  1. Kikipotamus Says:

    Thank you for this very educational post. I’ve been wanting to learn more about China since I started the TESL course in Toronto and had so many students from China.

  2. honorarynewfie Says:

    Thanks Kelly.
    The rest of the series could be a bit of an eye-opener, if a bit morbid.
    Don’t know what your television arrangements are, but if you have satellite or cable tv have a browse through the International section and see if you can get CCTV9, China Central’s English channel.
    If you can, I would recommend :
    “Culture Express” and “Around China” as good programmes to start watching, among others.
    They also do “Chopsticks”…. you can work out for yourself what that is about 😉


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