Chinese E-Bikes, Traffic, & Pedestrians

The people of Suzhou, China, are crazy about their electric bikes and scooters. These bikes or scooters are battery-powered.  They range in price from under $200 for a basic bicycle to $300-400 for a large scooter-style that holds two people.  the batteries range from 24 to 48 volts.  The basic bicycle looks much the same as a regular bicycle but has a thin battery that is in place where the cross bars would be, or under the seat.  If the battery runs low, the bike can be pedaled like a normal bike.  When the bike is under electric power, you see people with feet on pedals, in coasting style, gliding silently along.  In between the

E-Bikes on the way to work

cheap bike style and the bigger scooters are all sorts of styles holding one person, one and a child, or two with the second person’s feet hanging out (a lot have no place for the passenger’s feet.).  We see a lot of women riding “side-saddle” on the back.  The bigger scooter is the obvious status symbol here, short of having a car( which is the ultimate status symbol).  On bigger scooters women can easily wear high heels, carry a package, and get around in style.  These e-bikes go pretty fast and are silent.  Pedestrians really have to look out for these.  We see very few regular gas scooters or motorcycles.  Suzhou has a separate lanes from regular traffic just for bikes and scooters…with e-types being more common now than regular bikes.  These electric bikes and scooters are sold in Auchan’s (a French chain store like WalMart), the newly opened WalMart, and bicycle, e-bike, scooter shops.  There is more scooter parking than regular car parking at most stores.  Because of the value of these vehicles, most people ride them into their apartment buildings, walk them into the elevators and into their apartments for safety and of course to plug them in overnight.  There is little pollution from these vehicles.  Batteries and their disposal are another issue, but the Chinese are working on that.  The scooter and e-bikes follow most of the rules of the road, although at intersections they go when they can and do not always wait for the light…which makes it interesting when they are turning left, and there are pedestrians…and then the lights change for the bigger vehicles…gets a bit crazy!  E-bikes also do not always go the right directions in their lanes…many times there is 2-way traffic in a right-side-lane!  We see thousands of e-bikes each day with people on their way to work, shopping, or just “tooling around.”

Traffic in Suzhou is another topic.  There is great infrastructure, but even with that there is a lot of traffic.  Something unique

Suzhou Traffic Lights

here are the traffic lights.  Traffic lights have green and red arrows like the US.  They also have a counter that is tied to the time left for the red light or green light, this is also in synchronization with the the pedestrian crossing time.   Most lights have no yellow lights, except for a few in really busy intersections.  The Chinese figure if you can see the green light counting down from five, there is no reason to speed up before it changes to red.  The same is true for it changing from red to green, you know how long you have to wait.  Chinese drivers seem to respect these timers and most (excepting some taxi drivers) drive  not too aggressively.   There is a lot of horn-blowing, as buses move from lane to lane, and pedestrians try to cross, and there are a lot of people!  We have seen amazingly few accidents.  We also have not seen traffic police with people pulled over…so don’t know how they handle violations?

So all this brings up how do the pedestrians fit in?  China is its rush to be motorized, has left the pedestrians “in the ditch,” so to speak.  There are crosswalks marked on the street part for cars, etc., but not on the e-bike lanes…so walkers have to cross in front of the cars, then watch both ways for the silent e-bikes!  There is a lot of construction going on (they are building a new subway system here), so lanes are closed to e-bikes and traffic, along with some sidewalks closed, so pedestrians have to walk in the e-bike lanes, and the e-bikes have to go in the car lanes, sometimes they are still in their lanes.  They do construction on the e-bike lanes…then the e-bikes go on the sidewalks.  Another thing here is right turn on red…which they have, but with no stop necessary, so you’re walking along in the crosswalk with a green walk sign, and you have to watch out for the right turning car, bus, or e-bike!  Cars are a new phenomenon for many, so people tend to drive fast, even on back lanes, or residential areas.  We are constantly moving out of the way in our apartment complex of fast-moving vehicles!  The bottom line is:  PEDESTRIANS BEWARE!  It is not like home where pedestrians have the right of way.
Think of us the next time you cross a street.
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