Environmentality: Focusing on bike travel


Claire Barnett

Photo by Claire Barnett // Vanderbilt Hustler

Kailey Newcome

When people think about separated bike lanes, they envision countries such as Denmark, where environmentalism and sustainable infrastructure is an accepted way of life.  They don’t think of China, one of the greatest environmental offenders in the world. However, it is countries such as China that could benefit most from emulating Denmark’s “green” model.

From 2011-2017, China consistently emitted around 9,838.75 metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year. By comparison, the United States emitted roughly 5000 metric tons per year during that same timeframe. Even more upsetting, most of China’s major cities have some form of air quality issues for over 36 days out of the year. Beijing, for example, only had “acceptable air quality” for 45.75% of the year, according to the National Bureau of Statistics of China. Perhaps in an effort to address these concerning environmental issues, China has begun making small strides in sustainable practices.

For instance, one innovation was the Bicycle Skyway created in Xiamen, China in 2017. The five-mile elevated cycleway connects five of the largest residential areas to three business centers, and it can accommodate just over 2,000 bikers at one time. This design is similar to Copenhagen’s separated bike lanes; however, by elevating the skyway 17 feet, China has made a safer bicycling network, making it much more accessible and likely to be used. In just under a year, the Bicycle Skyway saw roughly 5,000 daily commuters, reaching maximum capacity during rush hours. Encouraged by the success of the skyway, China looked for other ways to improve its sustainability. Enter BMW’s Technology Office.

In conjunction with China’s Tongji University, carmaker BMW conceived the idea of the Vision E3 Way project. The idea focuses around separated bike lanes, much like the Bicycle Skyway, but takes the concept much further. These bike lanes are nine-mile long elevated roadways made for e-bike riders. An e-bike is a bicycle that moves using electricity or through pedaling. They have no carbon emissions, which makes them a sustainable transportation mode. The Bicycle Skyway design features heat-controlled tunnels (powered by solar panels on the ceilings), allowing bikers to ride regardless of weather conditions. To further incentivize bikers, the designers are implementing a bike rideshare station within the corridor to allow those who may not own bikes to still access the benefits of the E3 Way. With China’s population expected to exceed one billion by the year 2050, Dr. Markus Seidel, Direction of the BMW Group Technology Office China, states that this environmental innovation will no doubt aid in cutting emissions and reducing traffic within the clustered streets of China. With both the E3 Way and the Bicycle Skyway, China hopes to make zero-emission bicycling a more convenient and utilized mode of transportation.

China has a reputation for being one of the most polluted countries in the world. However, it is working to change that image. Focusing on bike travel, one of the lowest CO2 emitters in the transportation sector, the country has now embarked on two types of specialized bike initiatives to encourage sustainable travel. Hopefully with these new additions, the country will see future decreases in its pollution and subsequent increases in its air quality statistics.