Tomorrow we begin the lengthy trip back to Lincoln with an overnight in Beijing. When I read the accounts of the bike touring and bike packing trips so many others do I feel like maybe we should be riding back. After the 37 hour day we have in store we may wish we were.
This past week I’ve been reflecting on the roads and how they’re dealing with the burgeoning traffic problem here. As China rapidly modernizes and incomes rise, more families are buying cars, even though they are often unnecessary and make life more difficult for everyone else. Sound familiar? The traffic downtown is often such that I arrive at the destination by bike at the same time as the taxi our friends take, and have a lot more fun doing it. If they drive their own car, finding a parking place may add that much more time again. Authorities are hoping to dampen the desire for car ownership with new regulations and a hefty uptick in the price of licensing later this summer. This means many are rushing to get their licenses before the new costs take effect. The driving schools have mobbed areas of little-used ring road with hundreds of drivers-ed cars.
Some of the highways I took last fall and winter before I discovered the levees and small roads have since been closed to heavy truck traffic, but not before it took a toll on roads not designed for the abuse. Some had weigh stations, but they seemed to have given up on them. All of the expressways are toll roads so many truckers and other motorists avoid the expense by taking the local highways. I’m hoping they can get this sorted out now, as it’s only going to get a lot worse.
I do appreciate the “bike lanes” in the city. The fact that space is carved out for non-car traffic is great, even though sometimes it’s safer to ride in the car lanes. This is due to congestion, piles of construction materials, agricultural crops and debris, potholes, and in the evening they may get shut down for the nightly session of “square dancing.” Lacking a public square many of the groups of women doing their synchronized dance exercise to music take over the frontage roads. This attracts onlookers and food carts, further congesting the space. I’ve even seen impromptu open air movies being shown and small carnival rides using them. It really is fun riding around Zhoukou by night, though often there are no street lights on the outskirts and you never know what the cone of your headlight is going to suddenly show. Also many motorists drive with high beams on.
The next time I come I’m sure I’ll be as surprised by the changes as those who’ve come before me. While I’ve been here they’ve nearly finished upgrading the city entrance from the east (think “O” Street) with frontage roads and landscaping, and now they’re building the high-speed rail overpass. This required the demolition of the nearest row of buildings on both sides, as all street widening here does.
They’ve also nearly finished the gargantuan riverfront park. From when I stumbled upon its beginnings in December until now thousands of workers have put in millions of trees and shrubs, walkways, roads, park structures and sculptures. People are streaming in before it’s even finished to enjoy it (creating more traffic issues). I’ve seen the progress of the high-speed rail from up northwest near Nuwa’s temple to the southeast past Xiang Cheng go from pouring the piers to finishing the many overpasses and installing the rail bed, all elevated. Even more high rise apartment blocks are going up, though many more seem to sit in stasis probably waiting for cash infusions or to sell more units before finishing. Even the small villages and towns I ride through show new construction and improved infrastructure projects. If I were in city government I’d want to be focusing now on environmental issues like trash collection, sewers and air quality, and of course encouraging more people to bike.
Until next time, goodbye Zhoukou.