All photos by James D. Schwartz / The Urban Country
Today is my last day on Hainan island – China’s southernmost (and smallest) province. Hainan is developing at an extremely fast pace. Hainan was designated as a Special Economic Zone in the 1980’s, and earlier this year China announced its intentions on turning Hainan into an international island by 2020.
Hainan already attracted more than 22 million tourists last year – an increase of 9 percent over 2008, and it is also setting up duty free zones to attract even more tourists – luring business away from nearby Hong Kong.
As a result, there is construction everywhere you look. Most of the construction seems to be 5-star resorts and vacation homes for wealthy mainlanders and out-of-country vacationers. A lot of international money is being poured into the island to bring it up to international standards.
In a new housing development near Han’s parents home, I found a poster advertising the new community under construction. This particular development is called “Ocean Spring Resort”, and the poster depicts happy middle-upper class white people with their automobiles, and no room for bikes/scooters/motorcycles.
The poster poorly reflects the reality of the area in which the community is being built. There are just as many – if not more – scooters, bikes and motorcycles on the road than there are cars, and bikes are given their own wide protected lanes – as you can see from these photos taken on the same road where this community is being developed:
Here’s another photo from this same development – no sign of bicycles, scooters or motorcycles. Just lots of happy people and their automobiles:
Perhaps these posters are just cookie-cutter images that are used by an American company responsible for the development or the marketing of the complex.
Or maybe the Chinese want the “American Dream”. Big homes, big cars, and no more people on two wheels.
If the Chinese envision everybody owning cars in the future, then perhaps a photo of a clogged-up Los Angeles freeway would be more appropriate for these posters. Currently Haikou has the second best quality air in all of China. Adding more cars to the road wouldn’t help with air quality, nor would it help people get to their destination on time.
Just today I was walking through a parking lot and there were more than 40 scooters parked in an area that would only hold 7 automobiles. And as you might have seen in my recent cycling video, these scooters rarely have less than 2 occupants. It’s common to see 3 people on a single scooter/motorcycle, and the most I have seen on this trip is a family of 5.
Thankfully, the automobile hasn’t taken over yet. There are hundreds of thousands of scooters in this city. You can see them lined along the downtown streets. They are absolutely everywhere you go:
It’s very expensive to purchase and operate a car here in Hainan, so scooters and bikes are a great alternative that help keep people moving without clogging up the streets and polluting the air.
It’s faster to get around the city on a scooter than a car with Haikou’s wide bikeways, so I hope the Chinese will continue to use scooters and bikes as an alternative to the automobile.
Aside from getting to your destination faster, there are several other incentives for riding a scooter/bike instead of a car. The big one being the cost. You can buy a nice brand new electric scooter for only $300USD – that’s less than what most people pay for a bicycle in North America.
And you don’t need a license or insurance to ride it. Not a bad deal. Why would you even bother buying a car?
Forget about the American Dream. Inexpensive electric scooters and protected bikeways are just a pipe dream in North America.
Stay tuned – more articles from my 3-week trip to China are on the way.