Affluence and Automobiles in Beijing

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According to a recent article published by Agence France-Presse (AFP), increasing affluence in China has caused the rate of bicycle ridership in Beijing to drop from a high of 80% in the 1980s to less than 20% today. Though 20% is still very high by U.S. standards, the drop is nothing short of stunning. The results of this dramatic increase in driving are predictable, with massive traffic jams and intense smog now the norm. In an effort to reverse the trend, the city recently launched a bike-sharing program that it plans to grow to 50,000 bikes by 2015. The burning question is whether anyone will use the bikes now that the automobile genie has been let out of the bottle.

12 Responses to “Affluence and Automobiles in Beijing”

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    This just goes to show that when bicycle use is high from necessity alone, it is not a stable situation. Only when the *status* of the bicycle in society changes, will its future be guaranteed.

  • Alan says:

    @Lovely Bicycle!

    I couldn’t agree more.


  • bongobike says:

    And we are paying for their affluence with our dollars every time we buy something made there.

  • demimismo says:

    China, like every other place of the world, will be a car-nation while they can afford oil and parking.

    They are making the same mistakes we made here, you can’t build better highways, plenty of free parking space and still spect people to use your bike sharing program. Is a joke.

    Effective bike modal share (and less car modal share) is achieved by less parking plus higher oil and vehicle licensing taxes.

  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    The saddest part is that the ridership decline probably snowballed as cars became the dominant form of transport. In other words, the roads became less safe and the air smoggier as people switched, causing fewer people to be comfortable riding in the first place.

  • Herzog says:

    It’s really just a basic collective action problem — just like the ‘tragedy of the commons.’ You’re always better off buying a car. In places where few have/can-afford cars, it gives you an extraordinary advantage in mobility. In places with many cars, it’s a necessity. The solution is, necessarily, some form of Pigou taxes.

  • » Plummeting Bike Use in Beijing, and the Need for a Global Strategy says:

    […] on the Streetsblog Network, Eco Velo has a post about the precipitous decline in bicycling in […]

  • Doug P says:

    And- the future looks pretty scary! New car manufacturing plants currently en route will DOUBLE China’s car population in a very few years, and there currently is not enough oil being produced to fuel them. Something’s gotta give!

  • Streetsblog Los Angeles » Plummeting Bike Use in Beijing, and the Need for a Global Strategy says:

    […] on the Streetsblog Network, Eco Velo has a post about the precipitous decline in bicycling in […]

  • Brian C says:

    I was born in Ireland – at the time one of the poorest countries in Europe. When Ireland became one of the wealthiest nations in Europe, car ownership skyrocketed. Now they are having to reinvent cycling in Ireland – Dublin has made good progress, including a bike share program. But the countryside is now a nightmare for people not it cars. And they have amongst the worst rates of people dieing from car accidents in Europe.

    I suspect a similar fate awaits China – good to see they are already trying to address the problem, much quicker than Ireland did. And we have much to learn in North America about investing in transportation, so that people can move, rather than moving cars.

  • Adrienne says:

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out. China kept very tight control of the movements of its people for decades. Just getting from city to city could be overwhelmingly difficult for everyday people. Owning a car would mean a great deal more than just status in that situation. It would mean freedom from Government controlled public transit in a place where everything is controlled by the Government. Trying to reverse that trend is going to take some very creative thinking in a system that does not encourage or support creative thinking when dealing with public policy.

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    I think high-speed trains might influence the future of cycling in China. Centrally located train stations discourage urban sprawl, and the latest Chinese trains are twice as fast as American trains ever got. This article states that American inter city trains were the fastest in the world in the period 1930-1950. They reached 150 km/h and averaged 100 km/h with stops. That’s not fast enough to compete timewise with cars. French and Chinese trains today reach over 300 km/h and average over 200 km/h, which is competitive with cars and airplanes for distances of about 100-1000 kilometres, or journeys of about 30 minutes to three or four hours.

    But it won’t help cycling if they build the stations in the suburban sprawl.

    How America Led, and Lost, the High-Speed Rail Race

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