A decade ago, Beijing seemed like a cyclists’ paradise. True, there were no dedicated bicycle lanes, but that was because two-wheeled, human-powered vehicles owned the road. In what seemed like a scene from an environmentalist’s (slightly socialist) fantasy, scores of cyclists would wait patiently for the light to change, then embark en masse for their destinations. By contrast, biking around my hometown of Boston seemed faintly crazy — an invitation to being sideswiped by its famously inconsiderate drivers.
Today all that has been turned on its head. When I went to rent a bike upon my arrival in Beijing two weeks ago, people looked at me as though I were mad. As I tooled around the old neighbourhoods near the Forbidden City, I was often the only non-motorised thing in sight.
There were bike lanes, all right, but they were populated only by motorcyclists and the occasional fellow intrepid Westerner. On the back streets, I saw a few older Chinese cyclists, wearing expressions of thorough disgust.
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