Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.
A new website enables residents to identify problems in Beijing's pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.
The tides of transportation in China have undeniably changed in recent years. In 2010, ownership of cars and motorcycles was 20 times higher than it was just ten years before. Eighteen million cars were sold in China in 2011, and car ownership in Beijing has grown to more than 5 million. That tide has washed over the bicycle, formerly one of the most used forms of transportation in China, the use of which decline by more than 35 percent between 1995 and 2005.
But that tide is changing again, albeit slowly. While Chinese city-building has put much effort into building the highways and roads of a thoroughly car-dependent society, the Chinese government is not ignorant of the potential downsides of focusing on building infrastructure for automobiles and mostly ignoring pedestrians and bicyclists. The government wants to know where sidewalks and bike lanes are insufficient, and they've turned to the Chinese people to tell them.
A new crowdsourcing website seeks to tap into the wisdom of Chinese pedestrians and cyclists to identify areas in need of repair or improvement in Beijing. Developed by Beijing Transport Research Center and the World Bank, the website is aimed at helping transportation planners in the municipal government to know how roads and sidewalks are being used by the public, and where changes may be needed, according to this explanatory article from the World Bank.
When this online platform is officially launched, anyone can submit a mini report on issues related to quality of cycling and walking infrastructure as they discover, via web, smart phone apps, SMS or social media. Like during the one-hour testing on Sunday, the volunteers spotted a formidable array of issues that hamper cycling and walking, such as vehicles parked in bike lanes, no bike parking station or safe location to lock their bikes, areas with mixed traffic placing cyclists and passengers at greater risk.
All user-generated reports are then mapped and visualized, available for others to view and comment on.
It's a Chinese version of urban problem-spotting websites and apps such as SeeClickFix or FillThatHole. By making it easy for people to identify problems and notify officials, it's hoped that Beijing's website and mobile application will help make the infrastructure of the city work not just for its motorists, but for its still present pedestrians and bicyclists.
The website is currently being tested, but is expected to be available to the public soon.
Image: A man rides his bicycle past paramilitary policemen as they march in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Credit: David Gray / Reuters