urbanter

Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

Bamboo Biking – Week 2

A quick snapshot of this second week at BBB: Our next door neighbors moved out! So we have snagged this room and suddenly have so much more space. As recompense for refurbishing the room, it’s possible that I’ll end up living inside of the workshop itself, as my current housing will expire soon. That would be cool. In other news, we just hired three local high school interns, and I’ve been building my new bike at Workshop 33, designing a catalog for BBB, starting to make a visual workflow/how-to guide for the workshops, and drilling holes around the new room in preparation for some interior designing.

Workshop 34

Workshop 34, with new interns and old-time volunteers (all high-schoolers!)

Neighboring room in transition. Check back in a week or two to see its hopeful transformation!

Neighboring room in transition. Check back in a week or two to see its hopeful transformation!

Ever since I started borrowing someone else’s bamboo bike last week, I’ve been learning a lot more about transportation cultures and mobility in Beijing by spending 2-3 hours on the street commuting every day. At first glance, urban biking in Beijing can seem pretty chaotic and formidable. It is chaotic — when the streets are full, especially, you can look around and see cars in the bike lane, cars parked on the sidewalk, bikers and mopeds going the “wrong” way down multiple lanes, bikes and even pedestrians in the middle lanes of major roads, and a predictable disregard for certain traffic signals.

Despite the visual mess, it’s actually very calm within the fray, because everyone is paying close attention to everyone else. When I bike down the street, I am always planning my path for the next 20 meters, and rely on everyone else around me to be doing the same, so that we can anticipate and adapt to each other’s routes. There are often status transactions going on. For example, if a single bike is going against a single car when the bike has the right of way, the car will definitely cut off the bike illegally. But if a group of twenty bikers during the morning commute decides to cut a car off when the car has the right of way, you better believe they’ll do it. For a sense of scale, here is a picture of what almost every intersection looks like outside of the central city. That’s usually enough room for 6-8 lanes of cars on a road and two bike lanes. In this moment the intersection looks like a parking lot, but when transit goes on in the middle, it becomes a huge slow jumble through which people move like a school of fish, to borrow the words of Wang Wenlan, a photographer who has published famous series of photos of China’s bicycle scene.

Typical intersection in the outer rings of Beijing

Typical intersection in the outer rings of Beijing

Shanghai, 1991 © Wang Wenlan

Shanghai, 1991 © Wang Wenlan

More of Wang Wenlan’s amazing bike photography can be found here. Until next week!

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