In May, the Global Transit Innovations (GTI) program coordinated a study-abroad course that took 16 University of Minnesota students to China. The intensive two-week course focused on high-density urban and regional development and included visits to five cities in the Yangtze and Pearl River Delta regions.
In this guest post, student Joe Polacek reflects on Nanjing, the third stop on the course’s itinerary. While in the city, the students visited the Nanjing Public Bicycle Company, the Nanjing Construction Planning Exhibition Hall, and Southeast University.
By Joe Polacek
What I found most striking about Nanjing was the contrast between old and new. As we entered the city, we immediately made our way to the ancient temple on a hill. We ate vegetarian dishes and walked atop an old city wall. As we descended, however, the city became a totally new, contemporary experience. The streets were wide and paved with new blacktop, the sidewalks were made of large squares of nice stone, and the buildings were fresh and glitzy.
Throughout each of the Chinese cities we visited, I found fascinating examples of street design with respect to bicycle and pedestrian protection. In some cities, the streets were narrow and the bikeways took up critical space; in Nanjing, many of the roads were new and very wide.
Just outside our hotel was a creative solution for a car’s right-turn lane crossing the path of the bike/scooter’s through lane. In many urban settings, the automotive right-turn lane would cross paths with the bike lane at the intersection. At this particular intersection, the interaction happened before the intersection itself, at the very beginning of the right-turn lane. This could potentially simplify the interaction between bikers and drivers. However, it could also require more space and encourage a higher speed of travel.
Nanjing was also where my fascination with Ofo Bikes and Mobike (stationless bike-share companies) really took off. This was bike-share hardware I could identify as something to expect in Minneapolis in the future. It was like our Nice Ride but entirely more convenient.
Every time I saw a Mobike, I wished I had access. The vehicles were more compact than Nice Ride and appeared to be far more agile. When we made friends with students at Southeast University, they helped us to unlock bikes under their accounts. When we had had enough, we simply left the bike along a line of private bikes at the edge of the road. Though it seemed that the bikes could be left askew, one of our friends wanted to make sure we left them in proper form.
Additionally, it was a pleasure to see inside operations of the public station-based bike-share system. In comparison to Minneapolis, Nanjing’s call center was much larger and more well equipped with cameras for user troubleshooting and displays for workers’ information.