Where in the world is this?
If you’re thinking in terms of travel and cycling in Shanghai, change channel. In this piece, I’ve gone local.
Shanghai is a place that has intrigued me since I first visited the city in 1994. At that time bicycles were just about the only means of personal and private transport. About the only form of mechanised transport then were buses and taxis. Private cars were rare as were mopeds and motorcycles.
Today, things are certainly different. There’s now a comprehensive metro services, traffic jams of cars, swarms of mopeds and motorcycles, taxis are there in their multitudes and the buses, as many now as then, but smaller.
As for the humble bicycle. It’s still there in all its forms, shapes and sizes. And, they and their cyclists are well respected on those now busier roads. Cyclists have full use of most suburban thoroughfares – and I mean full use, as in the whole road. None of this cycle tracks, pavements or marked off pathways for cycling commuters in this city.
Even more impressive is the spread of people riding bicycles – young and old alike. Bicycles come in every form and shape and used for purposes beyond just being a mere form of convenience. On this last series of trips to Shanghai, I didn’t get to see it but, it wasn’t uncommon seeing a whole family commuting to some destination – the man of the house doing the peddling, the mother behind riding pillion in a side saddled fashion, one child sitting astride the cross bar and the other child crouched in a basket on the handle bars.
But, what impresses me most is the elegance with which most women seem to manage these machines as they ride through the traffic, this with a grace that it is almost Victorian. Many of the more mature women don bonnets and hats and where these capes – in some instances old shirts worn back to front – to cover their arms and to project themselves from the elements. As for the younger ladies, this is all leg power. Given the prevalence of bicycles as a regular form of transport in this city it appears to have a telling effect on the community, their health and the environment in which they live. While I cannot vouch for their levels of health or fitness, it is rare to observe the levels of obesity as found in other urban communities elsewhere around the world.
Put succinctly, for those into people watching or studying the urban myth, the bicycle on Shanghai’s suburban streets makes for an interesting spectacle. Seeing these machines in use, as they are used here in Shanghai also belies the myth that there’s no place for such transport in the modern urban landscape. Go to Shanghai to see how all this works and works it does. Enjoy.
UPDATE – : We have since added a gallery of photos featuring people commuting around Shanghai on their mopeds and bicycles – Communing in Shanghai
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originally written and posted on 120623 – reposted on 190119