17 December 2010

Hope for India? And China?

Hope for India
A colleague at the City of Copenhagen's bicycle office sent me this photo from India where, in many cities, the bicycle is still present en masse. Much is said about the decline in cycling in China and India is also dramatically increasing its levels of car ownership.

Seeing the above photo made me think of how it used to be in China. Steve Vance, in a comment on Flickr, reminded me of the classic film Return of the Scorcher, made in the early 1990's.

If you haven't seen it, do so. It's just under 30 minutes. It shows bicycle life in China, Amsterdam and cities in America. We are so often caught up in the current boom in cycling that it's worthwhile to see this film from the early 1990's. Not least for the great footage from China and the unchanged images of Amsterdam.

China Dam 1990
I travelled in China twice. First time was in 1990 where I rode around on a Chinese bicycle. It wasn't allowed to bring bicycles into China back then. You needed special permission and it was a confusing bureaucratic process. I share the views of Bliss in the film about his being stunned at the levels of bicycle traffic in Beijing.

I remember clearly riding on a roundabout in the afternoon rush hour. A massive roundabout which probably has four lanes of cars these days, and I couldn't get off. I had to ride around three times before edging my way far enough to the edge to exit down the street I needed. The swarm of bicycles was more like a swarm of butterflies than hornets. The pace was relaxed. Still, I required some practice to get into the mindset. I did, eventually.

Like I said, China's bicycle culture is under threat. There are, however, cities that have woken up and smelled the car fumes. Protected infrastructure is being built. A colleague of mine is involved in a project in a large Chinese city where they have realised that implementing Danish-style infrastructure is the key. I'll be blogging about it soon. So there is hope.

If Chinese cities start back-pedalling on their car culture it may send the right signals to India who can avoid the same dark decade.


林蘇 Lim Soo said...

I am from Hong Kong, China. I have started to commute 2 weeks ago.
Chinese, esp from Mainland, are fast-learners. They are so keen to catch up with the world. I am sure, we have hope. India has hope too.
ps. I am blogging about my commute experience in broken english...

Rajiv, Going Going Bike said...

India comes from quite a way back with its car ownership, so cycling and motor bikes predominate.

But as the cities become more modern and spend on road infrastructure expect more car ownership to come. India has a burgeoning middle class and whether you cycle in India is very much class driven

Lucas Jerzy Portela said...


there is a terrible threat going on in São Paulo, the biggest city of Brazil (and of all Latin America, or the hole south hemisfere).

The Mayor prohibited street-artists, and is arresting who ever tries do play a guitar in the cities financial center, the Paulista Avenue.

Sounds impossible? Check it out:


If you don't get a translator and don't read portuguese, here is a very eloquent image:


São Paulo (or Sampa, as a bahian composer sweetly goes the city) is the birth place of modern art movement, bringuing out to the streets the great art since 1922.

Now his totaly idiot mayor is trying to kill this vitality of the streets in name of security. Oh, the Fear Industry...!

There will be a huge protest with artists on this monday noon, 20th of december. Please, help as spread what is happening to this crazy adorable town that grew up from a jesuit vilage in 1600.

Kim said...

Rajiv, Going Going Bike in right about the effects of class, and it is not just in India, we have it in the UK as well, sadly...

Anonymous said...

George Bliss sold me my bicycle! He's a very cool man. Loved the video - thanks and great posts as usual Mikael.

Mikael said...

great to hear from you all! thanks! the sao paulo problem is horrible!

Anonymous said...

George is still making headlines here in NYC promoting cycling. Apparently, according to wikipedia, he coined the term 'critical mass'