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December 9, 2009

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Pedal power advocates push clean green health and enviro benefits

IT was all about pedal power and saving the environment when Shanghai's bike enthusiasts hit the road on the weekend to encourage more people to turn to bicycles as a transport option.

More than 60 local and foreign riders gathered in Puxi and rode an eight-kilometer route, taking in a ride to the Bund and a ferry trip across the Huangpu River before finishing in Pudong at the Oriental Pearl TV Tower.

The O1 Coolbike ride had a local, national and global focus.

The organizers hope the event and future rides, both here and around China, will raise awareness about the environmental and health benefits of bike riding.

Shanghai's event will also contribute to global messages collected by Kim Nguyen, an Australian who has cycled from his home country to Copenhagen, Denmark, as part of his "Ride Planet Earth" campaign.

On Saturday, there were cycling events held around the world to mark the first day of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

Participants in Shanghai signed a banner that will be part of signatures collected globally and sent to Copenhagen.

One of the organizers of the event, Hannah Lane, says events like this are crucial to change the image of bike riding in China.

Unlike many Western cities, where cycling numbers have increased, China has seen a gradual fall in cyclists as income levels increase and people turn to the car, says Lane.

Shanghai has six million registered bikes and potentially millions more unregistered bicycles.

"The perceptional issues with bike riding in China is that bikes are viewed as yesterday's transport and are to some extent associated with non-achievers and low-income groups," she says.

"This perception requires addressing if we are to succeed in getting Chinese people to actively choose a bike and continue to use it as part of their overall transport needs," Lane says.

Another potential drawback for those who would consider riding their bikes is potential safety issues in Shanghai's dense traffic.

Lane says the organizers of the event also wanted to support and encourage local governments to continue efforts to put in place a network of safe, non-polluted and regulated bike lanes in downtown Shanghai.

The event was organized by the group GoodtoShanghai.

Founder Susan Evans says the group's first focus was to promote ways to reduce Shanghai's air pollution, specifically its CO2 emissions. The group also was focused on providing support and information to a number of other green groups in Shanghai.

Evans also runs her own environmental consultancy and communications company Kplunk, which aims to create demand in the community for products and services that promote sustainable living.

This was one of the first activities conducted by GoodtoShanghai and Evans says they have also conducted a survey of 400 homes in Shanghai to find out some of the consumer and living habits of Chinese households.

Residents were asked a range of questions including the green friendly steps they had taken in their homes and if they considered environmental sustainability when purchasing products.

Evans says GoodtoShanghai hopes to be able to compare the findings with similar surveys of households in other parts of the world to better understand how the general public could be encouraged to take everyday action to cut their carbon footprint.

Organizers say that riders are made up of about half foreign and local Chinese and there are plans to work with local universities to hold similar rides.

As part of this university program, GoodtoShanghai also wants to hold cycling competency courses, teaching basic bike safety and skills, says Evans.

"The response was fantastic from residents of Shanghai, those taking part, supporters and spectators along the way," Evans says. "We are planning to roll out the initiative to other cities in spring 2010 to support and elevate this growing movement toward eco-friendly urban transport choices in China."

The next event in Shanghai will also be in the spring and is aimed to tie in with Expo events.

Thomas Lecoq was one of the participants on the day. A keen bike rider who owns his own bike shop, Lecoq says it was an important educational event to help give people practical ideas about how to reduce their carbon footprint and better protect the environment.

"I think it's important to educate people, stop wasting energy, leave a better Earth for our children and try to reduce our footprint," he says.

"I ride my bike 26 kilometers every day to work; I try to save water when showering, brushing my teeth, etc; and I try not to use the big air conditioner, instead I use a small heater in winter and a fan in summer. They are all basic things but if we all do things like this it will help," Lecoq says.


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