I was reminded a few days ago just how quickly things are changing here in Zhoukou. I was commenting on the small village roads I’d been riding lately. Another oral English teacher, one who has been here for more than ten years laughed and said that when she arrived all the roads were like that. There were no big roads. What traffic there was consisted of buses, trucks, taxis, black government cars, and three-wheelers. And bicycles, lots of bicycles. The riding must have been great but the road construction I complain about must have been much worse.
Fast forward thirteen years, and it is a very fast forward, traffic jams are common, an eight lane street with frontage roads is a few blocks away, and we have a beltway and expressways. The high-speed rail is being built before our eyes and is scheduled to open in 2019.
Neighborhoods are sliced through to provide the necessary right-of -way for widening and frontage roads on the outskirts. In the most central, oldest and densest areas where that’s impossible bicycles, scooters, and three-wheelers go from a divided lane to sharing the sidewalk with pedestrians.
Zhoukou is still wild and woolly when it comes to traffic. Steve remembers when he was here two years ago you could see someone pushing a stroller in the street, cars going the wrong direction both ways, donkey carts and three-wheelers all at once. Regulations are still treated as only a suggestion by many. In Shanghai bicycles are now banned entirely from the main tourist district of the Bund, and more powerful vespa-like scooters are on the way out, which to me seems counter-productive. Even with the bike shares cars are taking more and more precious road space.
Here you can still go from rustic country town to giant mega mall in the distance of about a block. The city is surrounded by these little villages and their small roads and fields. One day they may all be modernized and serviced by big roads, but I’m glad I got to see it now.