China, once called the “bicycle kingdom” because of the ubiquity of two-wheeled transport, seems to be learning quicker than the United States that more cars, more highways and more traffic lanes are not the answer to providing efficient, non-polluting transportation.
“Historically, China is very well known for bicycling, and I think there was a period of time, probably a decade or two ago, where the focus went to car culture,” says Bradley Schroeder, a consultant for the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy, based in New York.
“And now leaders are realizing that it’s absolutely impossible to build enough roads for everyone to have a car. And so you need to look at alternative methods.”
Schroeder cited China’s bus systems and subways as alternatives to cars, “but none of them solve the last-mile issue, and that’s where bike-sharing comes in.”
The video below, in which Schroeder appears, is about the bike-sharing system in Hangzhou, a city of 6.7 million in southeast China. It’s currently the largest bike-sharing system in the world.
Started on May 1, 2009, with 61 service points and 2,800 bicycles, it now has 2,050 service points and 51,500 bikes. By 2020, the system is expected to expand to 175,000 bikes.
Currently, the average number of trips per day with a bike-share bicycle is 240,000. That number sometimes peaks to around 320,000 trips.
“The distance between two service points in the main districts is 200 to 300 meters, and the distance between two service points in the suburbs is about 500 to 800 meters,” says Zhang Liqiang, assistant manager of the the Hangzhou Public Bicycle Co., an affiliate of the Public Transportation Group.
The company is responsible for the construction, operation and development of the public bicycle system in Hangzhou.
Schroeder notes that the bike-sharing system is “very integrated” with other forms of transportation, such as buses and water taxis. Service points are also located at housing complexes and near parking lots for people who still use cars for the main segment of their commute.
“I don’t think there is anywhere you can stand in Hangzhou for more than a minute or two where you wouldn’t have a Hangzhou public bike go past you,” Schroeder says. “The scale of bike-sharing in Hangzhou and in China in general is just completely off the map of what we see in Europe and the Americas.”
StreetFilms, which made the video, declared that Hangzhou has “the biggest, baddest bike-share in the world.”