Global Times : Speeding Pigeons
But I also copied the article so it can be read here directly.
Source: Global Times [00:45 April 01 2010]
Ines Brunn, co-founder of Smarter Than Car, performs a bike trick show last Sunday. Photo: Wang Zi
STC (Smarter Than Car) is a Beijing based group which aims to promote cycling in the city as an enjoyable, healthy and sustainable activity and a much smarter alternative to driving a car or taking taxis.
It makes sense when Beijing’s car ownership exceeds four million. In STC co-founder Shannon Bufton’s words, we have more than enough reasons to go smarter and get more freedom to move around at least within the third ring road.
Congestion’s the first reason. Have you ever tried to get around on a Friday night or during the weekend and got stuck in the traffic? It is always stressful.
What STC has planned to do, as Bufton introduced, is to start to collect data by using GPS through an iPhone application on the average speeds of different transportation modes: bus, private car, taxi and bicycle, and publishing figures showing how much faster the bicycle is - and the time savings that can be achieved by switching back to the bike.
“That would involve our volunteers working for over a three-month period,” said Bufton. “We will also aim to discover the most used cycling routes and allow users to rate the safety and efficiency of the routes they have just taken.”
Bufton, an Australian urban designer, has ridden in many different cities in the world and thinks Beijing’s one of the safest [to ride in the inner city]. Why? Because cars run more slowly. “And secondly, every person who drives a car in China has ridden a bicycle before so they sort of have more awareness of the bikers, like when and how they are going to turn left or stop,” he said.
Beijing is flat as a pancake, making it a fantastic place for urban cycling. The cycling infrastructure is still here according to Bufton. The bike lanes on some routes have been reduced but overall most roads have a bicycle lane.
There are not many other cities in the world that can boast this. Cities like Melbourne and London are bending over backwards and spending millions to improve infrastructure in their respective cities and they are still no where near to Beijing’s level of cycling lane infrastructure.
STC just formed in January and the followers rose from a few to about 50 people. The idea chimes easily with some of the local popular cycling clubs like Beijing Si Fei (Si means deadly; Fei means fly, aka Beijing Fixed Gear Club).
Ines Brunn, another co-founder of STC, former member of German national indoor cycling team, has been living in Beijing for five and a half years. She just opened a small fixed gear bike store in Wudaoying Hutong near the Lama Temple.
She admits that she commutes by bike and “goes everywhere by bike”. She’s not a cycling activist but helps the new-in-town “roadsters” like Michael Johnson, an American medical device company’s executive who just relocated from Malaysia to Beijing.
The night before the STC’s spring ride, Johnson received a call from Brunn telling him his new custom made fixed gear bike had arrived. “So here I am. I can’t believe that I am already in a community event even before I found a proper apartment. My other two bikes are still in the container and on the way to China,” Johnson said. He is may be too new to hear about the air conditions in Beijing.
Regarding the air that the cyclists breathe in, Bufton explained that actually staying in a closed car in a heavy traffic is even more dangerous because the car’s ventilation system keeps blowing in the fumes spewed by the car in front of you. To add double security, wear a cyclist’s mask.
STC has started to attach blinking lights to their bicycles so they are a moving “blinged up” bunch, also demonstrating to motorists they pass how much faster through the peak period of the week. Currently they are looking for a corporate sponsor to provide free lights to each rider.
Back on the Sunday spring ride: just before the group of 30 bikers of STC started off, Ines Brunn performed a short bike trick show upon request and within seconds pulled a larger crowd. A local pedicab guy, Lao Li, when told that these people are promoting using bikes to commute in city [instead of car], said: “Nice. Like us. It’s in China.”
Four tourists, young girls from England, happened to start their bicycle ride (recommended by a guide book) at Gulou plaza too and were amazed by Beijing’s community events involving both expats and local Chinese cyclists.
With their less smart-looking rental bikes parked by their side they said: “Of course. It’s a beautiful day to ride. But we want to have bikes like that,” pointing at the colorful wheels.
STC meet in front of the Drum Tower and ride to a different destination each time on the last Friday of each month at 7 pm. More details see STC’s website: www.stcbj.com.