Skip to main content
Close contact information
Get in touch

Josef Hargrave

Global foresight manager

Phone icon +44 (0) 20 7636 1531
Close contact information

The future of bicycle transport in urban China: a case study in Xi’an

The future of bicycle transport in urban China

A case study in Xi'an

Focus Area



Cities, Masterplanning and Urban Design, Mobility, Transport Planning


East Asia, Global



Resource depletion and climate change are global concerns that influence urban and transportation planning today. One way to address them is by shifting to a more sustainable means of urban transport. Public bicycle rental schemes have been introduced in many Chinese cities. However, planning and management issues have undermined the efficiency of operation and investment.  Bicycles have been rapidly fading out of China’s urban streets as a result of the relative popularity of motorisation. Automobiles cause traffic congestion as well as safety, health and environmental concerns, which in turn deters cyclists. This project aims to examine these concerns and, by doing so, enable continuous and effective promotion of low carbon urban transport, and thus contribute to the reduction of CO2 emissions in cities.

We are examining emerging business opportunities in the planning and development of bicycle transport in Chinese cities. This is done both on both a macro level planning scale and a micro level design scale. The macro level considers the distribution and intensity of bicycle transport on city and neighbourhood scales as well as the financial constraints and prospects associated with users and operators. On a micro level, the focus is on business opportunities in design and management of bicycle parking facilities, road infrastructure and interchanges.

Xi’an has been selected as the case study city as it is already implementing a programme to encourage bicycle use, there is a prior knowledge through researchers’ involvement in planning and development, and the city is significant in China’s urban hierarchy.

Key Findings

In collaboration with the University of Melbourne, the research project had carried out a baseline desktop analysis on the conditions of the bicycle transport network in urban China and in particular for Xi’an. The study included the completion of 450 questionnaire surveys in China, which provide insights into motivations and priority concerns regarding bicycle use.

Almost half of the cyclists use bicycles to commute to work and/or school. The other main user category is grocery shopping. There are a number of other trip purposes by cyclists but the proportion of the correspondents in these other categories are relatively small.

From the survey, the top three reasons for route selection are pragmatic – short distance, less congestion, and less journey time. Other factors such as pleasance, convenience, and even safety, are considered less important.

There are marked bicycles lanes and in some road sections there are bicycle signals. But the majority of cyclists cycle in roads with a mixture of bicycles with automobiles on streets and a lack of dedicated bicycle lanes and other provisions.

Electric bicycles are popular among the sample households.

As to the future expectations, safety is overwhelmingly a top priority. Parking facilities and the air quality are perceived as important too.


The research provides knowledge about the institutional aspects that shape bicycle transport in Chinese cities: policies and prospects of bicycle use, institutional barriers, and reform opportunities for bicycle transport development in national and local setting. It also gives insight into the main motivations and concerns that cyclists have.

The scenarios of future bicycle transport in urban China will open a window to the new business opportunities for transportation consultants. Information gathered in this project will be of use to transport planning experts, urban planning experts, and also policy makers and relevant services providers. Knowing which aspects are of the highest priority to the users will be of use for projects that promote cycling.


This project is particularly relevant given the importance of China’s potential to contribute to the control of greenhouse gas emissions.

The know-how acquired in developing bicycle-related system planning and infrastructure design supports Arup Transport Consulting team’s technical capabilities and strengthens Arup’s local knowledge and professional network for future transport projects in China.

By focusing on bicycle users’ preferences, we can address the challenge related to maintaining the preference in using bicycles over other means of transport. Considering each project holistically, we can advise on the best way to achieve long term benefits, such as positive influence of cycling on health and wellbeing of communities.