UBC Graduate Research

A Shrinking Path for Bicycles Wang, Qiuning


Beijing formerly had a strong tradition of cycling that exceeded many other Chinese cities in both ownership and ridership. Over the past two decades, however, this tradition has been on a shrinking path. During the mid 1980s, when China was called the ―Kingdom of Bicycle‖, Beijing had a biking population of over eight million (Sit, 1996a), with 62.7% of all trips being made by bicycle (BTRC, 2011). By 2000, despite bicycle ownership remaining high, only 38.7% of all trips were made by bicycle, this number dropping even lower to 16.7% of all trips in 2010 (BTRC, 2011). What were the factors that made cycling so popular in the past and what deters it currently? Through a historical review and an analysis of the national and local statistical data, my research aims to (1) provide an overview of the cycling history in Beijing; (2) identify and analyze the major factors which have influenced bicycle use in different periods; and (3) propose policy recommendations based on the improved understanding about the determinants of bicycle use in Beijing. This research covers a historical time frame of a century, which are categorized into four periods representing different stages of bicycle use in Beijing: (1) the early adoption of bicycle use from 1910 to 1949; (2) the period of steady growth in bicycle use from 1950 to 1978; (3) the period of rapid growth in bicycle use from 1979 to the 1990s; and (4) the period of decline in bicycle use from the 1990s to current day. Among various factors contributing to the rise and fall of bicycle use in Beijing, four of them have been identified as having the greatest impact: policy and regulation, built environment, the bicycle industry, and social-economic conditions. Through the investigation of these factors using a mixed method approach, the research reveals the following conclusions: (1) the historically inherited grid street network and the low height, high-density housing form contains fundamental features amenable to cycling; (2) the integration of non-motorized modes to the road network in the pre-and-early reform period, a growing bicycle industry and the moderately increased income pre-1990 were the major contributing factors to the thriving bicycle use in the 1980s and 1990s; (3) the launch of the National Automobile Industry Policy in 1994 had a detrimental impact on bicycle use and marked the beginning of a dramatic decline in bicycle use in Beijing; (4) the city‘s current transportation planning not only lacks a real interest in sustaining the tradition of cycling in Beijing, but also lacks a clear target and an integrated approach of reviving the bicycle use among its citizens; and (5) the strong existing bicycle industry, the remaining high level of bicycle ownership iii among Beijing residents, and the generous road network in the city provide concrete grounds for a more progressive bicycle planning policy.

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