Monday, November 12, 2007

Unintended Consequences

If it's not one thing, it's another.

40 Million Electric Bikes Spark Environmental Dilemma in China

Christopher Cherry
University of Tennessee-Knoxville

Grace Zhang is a like many other Chinese women. She is a middle-aged business owner, mother of a young daughter and one of more than 40 million new users of the electric bike, or e-bike, in China. Zhang is among China’s emerging and rapidly motorizing middle class, riding China’s economic growth. She leads a busy life; between operating an English school, transporting her child, and shopping, her day is full of activity. Her daily activities require high levels of flexibility and mobility, needs met by her new e-bike.

Electric bike users have taken Chinese cities by storm, quickly outnumbering the cars and in many cities, bicycles.

Electric bikes range in style from traditional pedal bicycles powered by an electric motor to larger electric powered scooters. They are loosely restricted on speed and size, but given the same rights as bicycle users, operate in bicycle lanes, and do not require driver’s licenses, vehicle registration or helmet use.

Good or bad?

Proponents would suggest that the e-bike phenomenon is a positive development; after all, e-bikes are quiet, non-polluting and provide more mobility than any other mode of transportation.

Opponents charge that e-bikes are unsafe, increase congestion, and indirectly pollute the environment through increased power plant emissions and lead pollution from their heavy batteries. Several cities have attempted to, or successfully, banned electric bikes from roadways, including the mega-cities of Beijing and Guangzhou.

Still, there has been little research on the true impacts of electric bikes in China.

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