Cyclists in Beijing can look forward to a free-wheeling future, according to municipal transport bosses, who said Wednesday they plan to launch a three- year plan to stamp out the illegal use of bike lanes in Beijing.
While cyclists applaud the intent, many doubt it will help clear the city's clogged cycle lanes, which are increasingly used by cars as parking lots and as a way to escape congestion.
The Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport said its plan aims to encourage people to get back on two wheels instead of four, both to ease traffic congestion and to improve the environment. The commission said that it investigated 386 bike lanes with a total length of 1,249 kilometers in 2012, and it showed that 9 kilometers of lanes was being used illegally by cars.
Zhou Shiguo, from the commission's road administration office, said that these 386 lanes are multi-lane main roads under the management of the municipal government. There are many more bike lanes managed by district governments that need to be regulated as well, he told the Global Times.
"Some lanes were being used for parking, some were enclosed by construction fences, and others were being used by cars as there was no dividing barrier," he said.
He noted that similar regulations were implemented before but only in certain areas where the problems were severe.
"We will first regulate the 386 lanes as a pilot program. It's the first time we've done this citywide," said Zhou. It has not been decided when the project will begin.
Australian Shannon Bufton, who owns Serk, a local bicycle-themed bar, said that the plan is a good initiative because the conditions for cycling have got a lot worse during the four years he has lived here.
Bufton said that people should respect bicycle lanes and the government should make laws to protect the lanes as well as enforce the rules to get cars out of the bicycle lanes.
"For instance, the police sometimes charge those drivers driving in the bicycle lane but sometimes they don't. Government should work on it," he said.
Ines Brunn, manager of Natooke, a fixed gear bike shop, said she sees people illegally parking every time she cycles in Beijing.
"There should be [tougher] law enforcement," she said.
"Since if they don't take care of cars blocking the bike lanes then it's counterproductive, because I then need to be cycling on the dangerous street instead of in the bike lanes," she said.
The percentage of regular cyclists in Beijing has decreased year-on-year by 2 percent, according to the Beijing Daily on August 25, 2011. In 2011, of all transport journeys, cycling accounted for only 17.9 percent.
Zhu Lijia, director of public administration studies at the Chinese Academy of Governance, said that as more and more cyclists become drivers, cyclists have been ignored.
"Given the small cycling population, their rights or voices could hardly be noted by the government," he said, adding that the plan sounds good but only time would tell if there will be any result afterward.
But if it will be difficult to get cars out of the bike lane, it will be more difficult to persuade their drivers to get back in the saddle.
Car owner Zhi Min said she would like to cycle, but the environment quality is so bad now.
"Even if I wore a mask, I'm still worried about air pollution," said Zhi.
She admitted she sometimes drove in the bike lane, but was never fined.
"It's because the road space is too small for so many cars. Other drivers do it, so I followed them," she said.
Billionaire real estate mogul Pan Shiyi said Tuesday that he thinks more Beijngers should ride bikes.
"We should limit the number of cars on days with high pollution," he said at the two sessions, the annual meeting of Beijing legislators.
"There are many roads in the UK that allow bikes and cars together," he said, noting Beijing should find more solutions like this, the Legal Mirror reported Tuesday.
Pan is a big supporter of cycling and said that he still insisted on cycling to his Beijing office to protect the environment and keep fit, according to the Beijing Times in January 2012.