The main culprits are nearby steel factories and coal-burning heating plants. But the city’s five million cars add much to the toxic mix, creating air that’s frequently rated “hazardous” by the World Air Quality Index Project.
“Traffic jams don’t just block the streets,” said one woman named Li. “They block the air.”
Now a partial solution may be riding to the rescue on two wheels.
Since the beginning of last year, Chinese cities have been awash with 23 million GPS-equipped bicycles, part of a bike share program that has been credited with changing traffic patterns across the country and reviving a mode of transportation that was fading fast.
Research by the China Institute of Information and Communications Technology (CIICT) revealed that on one day last year, the system logged 70 million riders — three to four rides per bike.
According to mapping industry studies here, the program has reduced inner-city car trips by 7.4 per cent in some areas and 3.8 per cent of total car trips in these cities.
“For years, we thought the way to cut traffic congestion in Beijing was to build more roads and parking lots,” said Zhao Yixin, a planner with the Urban Transportation Institute who advises the city government. “We learned that doesn’t work. There’s always more cars and more traffic.”
“But these bicycles are actually having an impact,” he said.
‘Convenient’ and ‘good for the environment’
This isn’t the first bike sharing project in China. Several years ago, it introduced a variety of dock-based systems, which were rarely used. There weren’t enough bikes or docks, and in cities with upwards of 10 million people, the docks were rarely in places people needed them most.
Chinese cities have witnessed an influx of 23 million GPS-equipped bicycles, part of a bike share program credited with changing traffic patterns across the country. (Saša Petricic/CBC)
By the time this latest system was introduced, bike ridership in Beijing (which has 22 million people) was at an all-time low and dropping.
This, in a city where bikes ruled just a few decades ago.