John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
An underpass with a forehead-level concrete ceiling seems designed to knock out Chinese citizens.
You've got to respect this curious bit of infrastructure out of Nanning, a city of about 6.6 million people in southern China. Do it right and you shave a few minutes off your commute; handle it wrong and you might find yourself sprawled on the ground with a golfball-sized knot growing on your forehead.
The ceiling of this highway underpass measures only 4 feet 3 inches tall, according to Newscom, which has a photo of pedestrians crouching under it with the unfortunate headline, "Peking Duck." The crossing is popular with bicyclists and motor-scooter riders as well, according to the below Mandarin-language news report. You really hope they have Navy SEALS-type situational awareness, given that so few of them choose to wear helmets.
The underpass has been the site of numerous close calls, according to one person quoted by Newscom: "I've seen lots of people nearly knock themselves out on it because they're not used to it." But local authorities say pedestrians are needlessly putting themselves in danger of a concrete K.O. That's because the shoulder-hunching thoroughfare is not designed for day-to-day foot traffic – rather, it's a "river crossing" meant to help out during Nanning's perennial floods. "If pedestrians don't like it they can walk somewhere else," said one town-hall representative.
Between the Lilliputian underpass and this rainbow-vomiting wonder, Nanning is building up a reputation for City of Improbable Bridges: