Back to the Future, by Bicycle

When does going backward mean progress? When you’re talking about bicycle use in the city of Beijing.

According to Streetsblog Network member The City Fix, Chinese officials have woken up to the idea that the city’s traditional bicycling culture, which has been in sharp decline over the last 20 years, should be restored and fostered:

beijing_nov_07_kf_024.jpgMore bikes are coming to Beijing. (Photo: Karl Fjellstrom, ITDP China)

Liu Xiaoming, the director of the Municipal Communications Commission, said in a Xinhua article
that the government will “revise and eliminate” regulations that
discourage bicycle use and impose greater restrictions on car drivers.…

The government also plans to restore bicycle lanes that were torn
down, as well as to build more parking lots for bicycles at bus and
subway stations to encourage additional cycling.  Also an improvement:
The city will make more bikes available for rent to defray the cost of
owning a bike (a new one can cost as little as $20-$40) and allay fears
of bicycle theft, a rampant problem in the city. By 2015, the number of bikes for rent will total 50,000. 

Meanwhile, in a galaxy far, far away, Los Angeles blog Westside Bikeside has a post that indulges in a little futuristic fantasy, putting convicted road rager Dr. Christopher Thompson in a quasi–Planet of the Apes scenario. (Thanks to Stephen Box of SoapBoxLA for pointing us to this one.)

Here’s the idea: Dr. Thompson, as you may have heard, has been sentenced to five years in prison for his vehicular assault on two people riding bicycles on Mandeville Canyon Road in Los Angeles. His driver’s license has also been permanently revoked. The folks at Westside Bikeside are imagining what would happen if the city of LA underwent a paradigm shift in those five years, and Dr. Thompson emerged into a landscape that was much friendlier to bicycles — one of which, of course, would be his most efficient form of transportation:

To Thompson it really would look like the Planet of the Apes. He
would have left a city where the car is king and its necessity is
unquestioned by most. …He might return to a city which put cyclists and pedestrians, as
vulnerable road users, first. He might return to a city where cycling
is fashionable, and cyclist intimidation, in any form, is
unfashionable.…

I’d like to announce Bikeside’s Planet of the Apes meta-project.
It’s not really a project — what the hell would a Planet of the Apes
project grant application look like? It’s more of a goal: total,
unfathomable, transformation. Total transformation of LA’s streets;
unfathomable transformation of LA’s minds. …We should begin our journey not entirely certain of our
destination, just intention and resolve to work like hell to get it
done.  I say we point to the mountain in the distance and say “that’s
where we’re going, screw the map.” That’s the Planet of the Apes
meta-project — a commitment to all out transformation of LA to a lush,
livable, fun-able, paradise.

Ridiculous? Or visionary? To those who would say LA’s sheer size makes bicycling as transportation impractical, Beijing’s example may be instructive: Los Angeles County contains some 4,061 square miles; the city of Beijing encompasses nearly 6,500 square miles.

  • Great post, Sarah.

    The “POTA Project” is both ridiculous and visionary. That’s why I love it.

    I wasn’t entirely joking in chatting with Westsidebikeside about it.

    Let’s assemble a think tank of dreamers, visionaries, practical thinkers, and mutual idealists who can make it happen (for L.A. and beyond). If we can inspire every cyclist to play some role, no matter how minor, we’d have a movement going.

    Joe Anthony

  • Can we finally bury the “los angeles is so sprawling only cars will work” argument. Central Los Angeles has some of the most dense neighborhoods in the country, a transit ridership to rival San Francisco’s, numerous census tracts where large numbers of households own no cars, and a rapidly growing number of bicyclists. Sure not all of the nearly 500 square miles of the City of Los Angeles, much less the County, will become livable heaven, but large parts of the city do not hold up to the stereotypes and generalizations and are really low hanging fruit for a city in dire need of good examples.

  • Joe Anthony, I’ve been around in the LA bike scene just a few years and I can tell you that we have plenty of “dreamers, visionaries, practical thinkers, and mutual idealists”. Loads of them.

    What we really need here in L.A.:

    – A financial base to support the existing work of advocates (Streetsblog LA has helped us turn the corner, but we need more paid writers, videographers photographers, and a lobbyist or two)

    – Experienced advocates with “lobbyist” skill sets (i.e. an understanding of what is and isn’t legally possible, a notion of the structure and function of local government, the ability to wage a P.R. campaign strategically and effectively)

    With money and legislative/governing knowledge L.A. would be transformed in a few years. Nobody would know what hit them in five years.

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