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August 12, 2017

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Want to make Shanghai more user-friendly? Start by respecting space

ANDY Boreham comes from New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington, and has lived in China, off and on, for the past five years. He has a master’s degree in Chinese culture and language from Fudan University and is interested in all things related to contemporary Chinese society. He welcomes your feedback on all of the issues he covers — you can reach him at received one of my first traffic tickets this week for riding my scooter on the side of the road, instead of inside my designated bike lane, which left me a little frustrated. Not because of the 30 yuan (US$4.50) fine I had to pay (it was tiny compared with back home), but because I feel the authorities should be targeting the root cause of this problem: a lack of respect for space.

I read recently that the Shanghai government is working hard to make the city more “bike-friendly,” which, in essence, means building more bike lanes. I think one of the most effective ways to make Shanghai more cyclist-friendly, and people-friendly in general, would be to first educate pedestrians and road users about space, safety and the consideration of others.

I’ve officially been biking in Shanghai for about two years now, mostly on a bicycle but more recently on an electric scooter. It’s not a huge amount of time, but I think it’s enough to be able to convincingly hold an educated opinion.

As a cyclist in Shanghai, I have been constantly shocked by the actions of vehicle drivers, other cyclists and pedestrians, which is extremely inconsiderate and, sometimes, plain dangerous. One of my pet peeves is vehicles cutting across the bike lane at speed without even checking if it’s clear first.

I’ve been close to being knocked off my bike several times, which I’ve put down to being part and parcel of biking here, but it doesn’t have to be.

The thing I’ll probably never understand, though, is how in China pedestrians seem to be totally averse to using the footpath to walk on. Most main roads in Shanghai are split into three sections: footpath, bike lane and then road. Pedestrians, though, seem to despise their lot, instead preferring to meander along the middle of the bike lane — playing on their phones or chatting or just standing there and waiting for who-knows-what — or on the road if there is no bike lane available.

What’s with that?

That brings me back to my traffic ticket and fine. I was punished for riding my scooter on the side of the road instead of inside my bike lane, but we are literally forced to — for our own safety and that of others — when the bike lane is filled with pedestrians.

It’s so dangerous trying to weave through people who seem to just bolt out without even so much as looking to check if the way is clear first, or who just waddle along a bike lane or road without a care in the world.

The only way this problem is ever going to be fixed is if people, car drivers, bike riders and pedestrians become more aware of space, and the effect they have on others.

If you’re walking, walk on the footpath. If there is no footpath and you absolutely need to walk in a bike lane or on the road, look before you bolt out, and stick as close to the side of the space as possible (don’t walk down the middle). That way a cyclist won’t need to enter the road or bike on footpaths.

Another aspect of space that doesn’t seem to factor here is an awareness of flow and the blockage of flow.

For example, if I’m biking in a cycle lane but need to turn left at the next intersection, I will move to the left side of the lane ahead of time. If the light’s red, I’ll hug the edge of the biking lane, and let traffic going straight on pass me without hindrance. I wouldn’t just stop smack bang in the middle of the space and block people, or make them bike around me.

The same goes for pedestrians and car drivers. Be aware of your mass, your vehicle’s mass and your flow. Don’t stand 2 meters out from the sidewalk when you’re waiting to cross the road. Don’t park your car across a bike lane, just because you want to run into the shop to buy some water, or you’re dropping off a friend.

Once people become more respectful of space, things will flow much more smoothly, for everyone concerned.


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