Posted October 17th 2011 at 6:36 pm by
in Bike Lanes of Kunming, Transportation

Bike Lanes of Kunming: An Introduction

I recently moved to Kunming after living in two of the largest cities in China — Beijing and Shanghai, with populations of 20 and 23 million each. Although Kunming is comparably smaller, it encompasses a growing metropolitan area of over 6 million residents, is the capital of Yunnan Province, and serves as China’s gateway to Southeast Asia. Yet it remains one of the largest cities in China without a subway system.

Many residents rely on the extensive bike routes that transect the city. In these narrow lanes, anything from xiaochi (little snacks) to heavy machinery is transported across Kunming. As a newcomer in town, commuting by bicycle has been a unique way to get to know Kunming’s developing cityscape and varied demography. Every morning, I ride alongside hundreds of cyclists headed to the center of town.

As an emerging metropolis, Kunming is in a perpetual state of development, which in China often includes a cyclical process of demolition and reconstruction. Moreover, the long‐anticipated construction of the new subway line began just a couple months ago. As a result, Kunming’s main transit arteries are often impeded by construction, putting stress on mass transit, especially bipedal transit. Old neighborhoods are bulldozed overnight, leaving behind countless paths traversable only by bicycle.

How will the dramatic changes in Kunming’s transit system shape the daily lives of its residents?

In this series, I will collaborate with local residents to document and explore the human experience of rapid urban development from the perspective of these disappearing bike lanes.

Post and photos by Sewon Chung. Sewon received her B.A. in Sociology and Literary & Cultural Studies from the College of William and Mary in 2009. During her studies, she produced a documentary film about the U.S.‐Mexico border to facilitate discussion concerning race, identity, and community in Williamsburg, Virginia. Sewon currently lives in Kunming, China where she rides her bicycle everyday.

5 responses to “Bike Lanes of Kunming: An Introduction”

  1. Aditi says:

    As cities keep evolving and work to improve themselves, something always gets lost. How do planners weigh that loss with what is gained? I am looking forward to your series and learning more about Kunming. Your photos are so telling!

  2. ZEOLITE says:

    Wonderful photos as always. I can’t wait to see how this story develops!

  3. Christina says:

    Also can’t wait to see how this story unfolds! Love the photo of the cargo bike. Wish there were more of them in use around U.S. cities.

  4. jacob dreyer says:

    you write that KM has no subway like it’s a bad thing, and I guess it probably is. But in some cities of china, building of metro systems has been criticised as impractical, improperly administering or allowing of opportunities for corruption. at worst, shoddy hurried work can lead to accidents such as the one on shanghai line ten recently. and there’s the broader issue that you’re engaging with: the alienation of life in the modern city, about which Zhu Dake here:

    so what do you think? should kunming have a subway? if bikes lead to overcrowding, is the solution to make mass transit, or to decentralize urban operations so that people don’t need to commute so far?

    just some questions I asked myself as I read. great work, sewon!

  5. Sewon Christina Chung says:

    Thank you for the feedback!

    When I first moved to Kunming after living in Mexico City, Shanghai, and Beijing, I was a bit surprised that there was no subway system here. I was reluctant to ride the crowded buses, but I didn’t want to take taxis every day either; so I became a daily bicycle commuter. I think it’s really wonderful that there are these extensive bike lanes throughout the city and so many different types of bipedal vehicles on the road.

    As a cyclist, it’s unnerving to see the bike lanes blocked off due to subway constructions. We have to either ride on the sidewalk or alongside trucks and buses (which is quite scary during rush hour).

    I was on the subway the day the Beijing accident occurred this past summer (an escalator malfunctioned and came collapsing down at the Beijing Zoo station). I never quite trusted the Beijing subway escalator again. And of course, you know what happened just weeks after I took the new Shanghai-Beijing high-speed train..

    I’m definitely planning a separate post about the Kunming subway plans. I read in the Chinese news that a single ride in Kunming will be 7x the cost of the Beijing subway ride! Who are the city planners’ targeted subway riders?