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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.