Bicycles and Automobiles around Fudan University

December 14, 2010  |  China

I am unable to count the times which I have had near collisions while riding my bicycle around Fudan University.   The bicycle path on Wudong Lu is merely a painted path along the side of the road.  Because of the massive quantity of automobiles on the road without a developed system of publicly-accessible parking lots, the bike paths on Wudong Lu double as parking spaces for cars.  While I was riding my bicycle along Wudong Lu on the day of this writing, I was put into a dangerous situation while I was in front of a local hospital.  There was parked Audi car in the bicycle path in front of me, a city bus was approaching me from behind, a bus stop was in front of the parked car, and my bicycle brakes (like the brakes of cheap bicycle in China) were barely working.  The city bus whipped around from behind and drove toward the bus stop.  The bus thus sandwiched me between itself and the parked car with a mere 2 foot gap.  As a result of this, my handlebars just barely missed colliding straight into the Audi’s rearview mirror.  After this near-collision, I still had to swerve my bicycle into the curb and slam on my brakes before hitting the people who were about to get onto the bus, which was now at a complete stop.  I wish that this same type of story was a rare occurrence, but it seems to happen to me on a weekly basis.  Many of my fellow American classmates in Shanghai have had actual collisions with buses, cars, and mopeds while biking around campus.  They still have the destroyed bicycles and scars to prove their stories.

The cause of many bicycle collisions around the Fudan campus seems to be merely a matter of space and automobiles’ likeliness to enter the bicycle paths.  In an ideal world, automobiles would stay on their road-space and bicycles would have full security within the bicycle paths.  However, in practice this concept seems to be completely lost around Fudan.  Since there are no clear or enforced “No Parking” areas, cars have full liberty to park and obstruct the bicycle paths. These obstructions force bicycles to utilize the automobile road-space, and thus lead to more likely collisions.  Furthering complications, many bus stops are located within the bike paths.  Hence, whenever a bus makes a stop, there is a sudden and temporary blockage of the bike paths.  If the bicyclist does not have superb awareness of whether a bus is behind him, he will likely have a near-collision.  Across the street from the Wudong Lu hospital where my near-collision occurred, the road has a solution to bus stop-bicycle problem.   The hospital bus stop is still along the side of the road, but the bike path detours off to the right of an island. This island allows bicycles to maintain their liberty in the bike paths as well as giving the bus a safe place to load and unload passengers.  However, islands like this one are not common around Fudan’s campus, and bus stops are still a major threat to bicyclist safety. Along with bus stops, another factor causing automobile bicycle path obstruction is the higher frequency of passing cars on the roadways.  Drivers around the Fudan campus seem to show impatience with the necessities of slowing down or stopping.  Because of this impatience, I have seen many instances of one vehicle driving into the oncoming lane in order to pass a slow moving vehicle.  If a car is currently in the oncoming lane, it usually tries to avoid collision by swerving into the bicycle path, thus causing a temporary obstruction and possible collisions with bicycles.  Another frequent occurrence is automobiles using the bicycle lane itself to pass slow moving cars, especially at stop lights.

With all things considered, it is a constant struggle of sharing between bicycles and cars.  It seems that automobiles always gain the advantage in these circumstances because of their inherent superiority.  Along with their inherent superiority, Professor Yu Hai argues that automobiles also gain advantages through policy:

Put taking buses and walking aside first, riding bikes not only fail to enjoy any priority in sharing road, it is even highly restricted in many places.  The road is getting wider, but the bicycle road is getting narrower.  Middle ring road in Shanghai is about 40 kilometers long, in which there is not any bicycle road.  In Shanghai, more than 20% of roads do not permit bicycle riding…which finally leads to more difficulties in getting through the downtown of Shanghai by bike.  Such discrimination in distribution of road resources towards non-motorized vehicles is most unfair and unreasonable. (Yu, H. “The Production of Space and Distribution of Right-of-way”)

Is it fair for automobiles to put bicycles in such a submissive position on the road spaces?  Because automobiles are much more expensive than bicycles, I feel that the power given to cars is another way for those who can afford automobiles to hold an advantage to those who can’t.  I believe this power struggle to be unjust and unequal. Also, when automobiles hold more power on the road than bicycles, it sends a signal to consumers that driving is better than biking.  This thought scares me because of the implications it has on sustainability in China.  More power to the automobiles may lead to more automobiles, which leads to higher emissions.  I hope the city analyzes the power relationship between cars and bicycles, and starts to create policies that favor the pedals.