Beijing partners with Dutch experts to revive cycling

Beijing Municipality collaborates with Dutch and Chinese experts in a bid to bring cycling back to China’s capital city.

Dutch sustainability experts have developed a scheme that will integrate cycling into Beijing’s transport system and help the Chinese capital city regain its status as one of the world’s havens for bicycles.

Bicycles were once one of China’s cultural icons and a very common personal mode of transport for the Chinese.

Dutch consultancy firms Ecofys and Royal HaskoningDHV, in partnership with the China Academy of Transportation Sciences under the Ministry of Transport, presented the ‘Beijing Bicycle Strategy and Policy’ on May 25 to officials of the Beijing Municipality and Asian Development Bank (ADB) at the Dutch embassy in Beijing.

The project, which was initiated and funded by ADB, aims to increase the use of bicycles in Beijing and integrate cycling into the city’s urban transport system. To make cycling appealing and encourage more Beijing residents to commute using bikes, they provided several recommendations and action plans for the municipality.

Wim van der Wijk, a bicycle transport expert at Royal HaskoningDHV who presented the plan, said the plan includes efficient bicycle routes and parking facilities, upgrading of public bicycle sharing systems, adding more trip destinations and making sure that cycling is integrated into a “high quality” public transport system. 

The increase in car ownership and other motorised vehicles - driven by growing demand from an expanding middle class - has brought congestion and air pollution to Beijing, the experts said in a statement, adding that the use of bicycles as mode of transport has declined substantially, from 63 per cent in 1986 to 14 per cent in 2012. It has not increased since, they noted.

Ki-Joon Kim, senior transport specialist at ADB, said cycling can make a substantial contribution to sustainable transport in Beijing. The Chinese government has meanwhile set a goal to raise the use of bicycles as a mode of transport to 20 per cent by 2020, he added.

The team of experts also studied the reason behind the decline in bicycle use. They found that there is a perception among residents that cycling is not an option for daily use and that a car is an indicator of wealth and success.

The team produced a bicycle policy toolkit which may be applicable to other major cities in Asia-Pacific and the ADB will make the toolkit available to the public. 

The most important factor in making cycling work as a mode of transport is the recognition by institutions of cycling as an integral part of urban transport planning, van der Wijk explained. Top politicians and officials also need to promote cycling with enthusiasm, he added. 

“This requires a cultural change within the existing institutions in power,” he said.

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