Chances are, you’ve seen a fair share of photos depicting Chinese cities completely engulfed in thick, sinister blankets of smog. Chances are, the island-bound port city of Xiamen, in the southeastern province of Fujian, has never been one of them.
Unlike its airpocalypse-afflicted brethren (particularly Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei and other large urban centers in the northern part of the country), oppressive smog is a rarity in Xiamen. A tourist-friendly town that’s exceptionally scenic (Beaches! Historic architecture! Parks and public gardens that can be enjoyed sans contagion masks!) while boasting both mild weather and a relatively small population (just under 2 million) compared to other major Chinese cities, Xiamen is the place where well-heeled residents in the north decamp when they want to escape stifling smog.
Xiamen’s smog-light status no doubt benefits greatly from the region’s unwavering reliance on bicycles. While there’s still plenty of automobile congestion to go around, motorcycles and mopeds have been outlawed in the city since the 1990s. Gulangyu Island, just off the coast of Xiamen, is completely pedestrianized — cars, mopeds and other forms of pollution-generating motorized transport are completely forbidden on the ferry-accessible island. Bike culture in Xiamen is strong, and has been for decades.
This all said, Xiamen is pretty much the ideal city to debut China’s first-ever aerial “cycleway,” a nearly five-mile swath of elevated roadway that’s only open to bike commuters. As Popular Mechanics notes, Xiamen’s newly opened cycleway — the longest suspended bike bath in the world, go figure — functions as a sort of car-free highway in that it links all of the city’s major residential and business districts with 11 designated exit/on ramps. Along the route, bike commuters have direct access to 11 bus stations and two subway stops, making it fully possible to get around almost the entire sprawling city without stepping foot inside a taxi or private car.
Xiamen further cements its reputation as one China's most livable (and cleanest) cities with the opening of a nearly 5-mile floating cycling path that winds through the city center. (Video screengrab: CCTV+/YouTube)
As reported by Chinese news agency Xinhau, “the winding viaduct” is open to all bikes, both publicly and privately owned, from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. during a month-long trial period. In total, the 15-foot-wide cycleway can handle a staggering 2,023 bikes per hour with a maximum speed of 15 miles per hour. Over 300 for-hire bikes are available for sharing along the route. In addition to bike-share docking stations, there’s also ample bike parking for privately owned bikes as well as bike-centric service pavilions.
Operated by Xiamen City Public Bicycle Management, the cycleway, in some spots, soars 16 feet above the ground. While, Xiamen, as mentioned, is blessed with decent weather, large sections of the floating bike path are sheltered by an even higher road that accommodates the city’s elevated rapid transit bus line in the event of downpours.
“I'm a little bit afraid of the height, so I thought I would dare not ride on it. But today I found the guardrail made me feel safe," Xiamen resident Wu Xueying tells Xinhau. "It's nice to ride a bicycle under the blue sky in the sunshine."
It’s hard to imagine someone in Beijing ever muttering these words.
Xiamen's newly opened elevated bicycle 'highway' was designed by Dissing+Weitling, the same Danish firm responsible for numerous eye-catching bridges and Copenhagen's famed 'Bicycle Snake.' (Rendering: Dissing + Weitling)
Meant to provide bike commuters a much safer alternative to surface roads, encourage green modes of transportation amongst already bike-savvy Xiamen residents and, finally, provide China with yet another superlative-worthy work of aerial infrastructure that doubles as a tourist attraction, the cycleway was designed by Copenhagan-based architecture firm Dissing + Weitling, which notes that the overall vision of the project is “to inspire people to prioritize the green alternative, the bicycle, instead of the car.”
Specializing in landmark bridges, Dissing + Weitling also knows a thing or two about elevated bike paths as the firm is responsible for the award-winning Cykelslangen (“Bicycle Snake”), a congestion-easing 754-foot-long elevated bike path that spans Copenhagen’s Inner Harbour. While Cykelslangen was several years in the making, the project in Xiamen took just several months to design and complete.
For now at least, Xiamen boasts the world’s longest aerial bike path — it certainly wouldn't be surprising if authorities in other Chinese cities catch cycle skyway fever and attempt to top this feat. Other cities outside of China, many directly inspired by the Cykelslangen, have previously mulled over ideas for similarly suspended cycling infrastructure. This includes Melbourne and London, the latter of which would be home to the proposed SkyCycle, Sir Norman Foster’s wildly ambitious 136-mile “cycling utopia” that, if ever realized, would be elevated directly about the city’s existing train tracks.