I was wondering at the impression I have that the operators of the electric three-wheel cargo motos, scooters and bicyclists act like they own the road here, and don’t wear helmets. They only relinquish their lane (I use that term loosely) when a truck or car is laying on their horn in an “Outta my way, I’m coming through!” kind of way. Then I remembered the articles I’ve read this past year or so about the fact that motorists in the U.S. only gained the upper hand on the roadways after a campaign to paint pedestrians who used the road as they always had, as “Jaywalkers”- a pejorative. Before that they were simply walking and cars were the out of control ones that needed to be slowed down and managed. Here, I think the motorists still have the mindset of a scooter operator, only now much more dangerous. In Zhoukou, only 10-15 years ago to see a car was a rarity, as there were only a handful. It was full of bicycles and scooters. Only two years ago half the cars were sill taxis. Now there is Uber and traffic jams at rush hour. Steve’s student Elon (he named himself in homage to Elon Musk) is from here and said every family then had a three-wheeler and simply piled in for a trip downtown and shopping. Many, maybe the majority, still do. Others ride 2-3 to a scooter. (I saw 4 once) They are cheaper than a decent bicycle.
The bike lanes are still often more congested with scooters than the roadways. There are plenty of rusty old three-wheeled cargo bicycles, or I guess tricycles yet, usually ridden by old timers. Steve says just two years ago they were used to pick up the trash on campus, but now they’ve been replaced by the motorized variety. The landscaping crews still use them in maintaining the city plantings and street sweeping, but they’re mainly pensioners themselves.
Changes in infrastructure here are dramatic and happen quickly. They are usually improvements, but not always. The 10′ wide strip along the sidewalk where the old market used to be on the next block down (the blocks are very long) was being used as a garden with plantings of sesame, cotton, and soybeans.
It’s a common practice here and fun to see. Empty lots and medians are often gardened. Creek banks and roadsides up to the asphalt at times in the small towns, too. In this case as soon as harvest was done they paved it over. Part of the new market across the street has already been torn down to make way for a square to go with the block of high rises that are being finished. Half of the streets seem to have blue construction barriers up. There is a constant cycle of construction and destruction of concrete buildings. Landscape netting covers large areas of exposed dirt in an attempt to keep it from blowing and eroding so much. Water is sprayed on the streets in an attempt to keep the dust down (it really mucks up my bike) and I’ve seen anti-smog devices being used. Still the air is thick enough with exhaust even though the scooters are electric to need a mask much of the time. I have to admit I’m hit or miss with using one. Some days are better than others and rain helps clear the air. Also, I’m not sure just how much a paper mask can do and on hot days I sweat under it. I understand it’s worse in the winter when people are burning coal, and I’ll probably use one of the cloth ones that use a charcoal filter that are so common. I read several essays written by my students state that they thought the sky in Zhoukou was blue and the air clean. Obviously the bar has been set too low. There are certainly many cities that have worse air quality problems, Beijing and Zhengzhou come to mind, but that’s a race to the bottom.
That’s all the more reason to look for rides that take me out of the city. There’s a nice loop I’ve been taking recently that goes up north along scenic farmland and villages.
It crosses the piers being installed for the high-speed rail coming in the next year or so. I even ran into my cycling friend Ding doing the same ride in reverse. He usually wears a mask, all the more reason for me to get with the program. He’s told me about a great ride 200 km away in the Northwest of Henan province, Southern Taihang Mountain. He says the Taihang Mountain Wall road is “known to the world and the ninth largest miracle.” Unfortunately I won’t have two days together without classes until January when it will be too cold, so maybe in March I’ll ride it. Until then there’s plenty left to continue exploring closer to home.