Chengdu’s New Pedestrian Overpasses

Looking down over Chengdu’s roadscape is no longer a luxury reserved for tenants of high-rise apartments. Now, anyone on foot can enjoy a view of the street from Chengdu’s brand new pedestrian overpasses. Concrete bridges that cross over major roads have sprung up all over Chengdu during the Spring Festival this year and people are already streaming across, as migrant workers put on the finishing touches of gold and silver paint.

Sichuan is one of China’s most populous provinces and Chengdu’s urban center had a very high population even before the economy took off. The official census in the year 2000 pegged Chengdu at 3.3 million people, which is about a third the population of Shanghai that year. In 2008 Chengdu’s urban population climbed to 4.7 million — estimates range from 5-8 million people counting migrant workers, suburban sprawl and other unofficial populations. One thing is clear: the city is crowded and the transportation system has struggled to ease the crunch.

Ever since the economy took off, cars have clogged the streets and taxis are impossible to hail. The city slowly widened major streets like Renmin NanLu, but the limited road capacity of the rest of Chengdu forced the city to impose a moratorium on taxis. This ensures that every bus is full to the door, every bike lane is buzzing with mopeds and the sidewalks are still filled with people. The buildup of impatient pedestrians on either side of the crosswalks — often waiting 3 minutes or more for a walk light — resulted in crowding and accidents. The upcoming subway system will help, but only one line is scheduled to be finished this year, so the city had to do something.

Enter the overpass.

Pedestrians cross one of the new overpasses on First Ring Road in South Chengdu as dusk approaches

Each overpass has one stair entrance and one grated ramp entrance on each side of the street. Bike riders can push their bikes up, while electric bikes, vespas and motorcycles can be motored/pushed up, as well.

Merchants are already taking advantage of the overpasses’ potential for a marketplace, especially after work hours and into the night when a lot of couples go for walks. Peddlers and petty entrepreneurs lay down tarps to sell trinkets like hair bands and cell phone accessories. While the demand for their goods should be high, especially among age 14-25 females, overcrowding may lead the street patrol to chase the merchants off. This is what happens to a lot of fruit vendors on the corners of Chengdu now. Overpasses in business and wealthier areas may also attract pickpockets.

You may be wondering about how people in wheelchairs fit into all of this. So are we. The gradient to the entrance ramp is a little steep, so we can only suppose that handicapped people will require either an electric wheelchair, a strong assistant, or, most likely, both.

Your comments, ideas and speculations on Chengdu’s pedestrian overpasses are appreciated.

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About Reed

Reed has been studying Chinese since 2001. He moved to Chengdu in 2005, and left to work in Yangzhou and Guangzhou, before returning in 2008. He is an entrepreneur in language tutoring and a freelance translator/voice-actor. Reed loves everything Sichuanese, from the cooking to the dialect.

7 Responses to “Chengdu’s New Pedestrian Overpasses”

  1. The speed at which these things went up is incredible. In a matter of weeks it seemed like there were a dozen of them just in the South of Chengdu.

  2. In principle the ‘skywalks’ are a reasonable idea (anything that cuts down the level of pedestrian peril in this city is!) However, personally I have a number of issues with how they’ve been built and policed.

    As you mention the entrance ramps are extremely steep, and also coated in some sort of non-stick, slippery substance that makes walking up or down them akin to ice-skating on a slope.

    Also, while most people seem to push their bikes or moped up, motorbike riders seem quite content to blast up the narrow ramp at top speed sounding their horn. Not so different to the road I know, but at least on the road you can take evasive action.

    Anyway, that’s my two pence worth. The skywalks are still in their infancy so perhaps there will be changes made to the way they operate. I just hope that common sense prevails!

  3. I also wondered about wheelchair users, but even more suspect, there doesn’t seem to be any disabled access to the subway either! As far as I can see, the new entrances to the subway require navigating steps. Fancy building something so new and blocking access to those using wheels – buggies or wheelchairs etc.
    If Chengdu wants to become a ‘civilised’ city, it could start by building infrastructure that’s accessible for everyone. Otherwise, are they going to have to tear it down in a few years if there are ever any regulations requiring access?!

  4. I know where I will be trolling for hot chicks at…

  5. It feels strange not standing along with a huge crowd at Kehua Beilu waiting to cross the street. Now that you can walk directly across without stopping, you aren’t standing shoulder to shoulder with the people of the city – the students, couriers, housewives, mobile flower vendors, etc.

    One thing I am looking forward to is the bridges developing into markets. I bought 6 pair of socks on the overpass on second ring road a week ago. Just walking across and thought, I should buy some socks on this bridge. That’s convenience!

  6. The yong feng lu pedestrian overhead bridge that leads from Guo Ji Hua Yuan down to the Little Sheep hot pot also boasts a night market. Umm should it be called that or just a collection of people trying to sell anything ranging from socks as you mentioned to dvds(mostly chinese,probably all very poor quality), books(definitely all chinese), toys and maybe a sweater or a t-shirt depending on the time of year. I Still cant get over one of the sellers who is basically there everynight with her a liitle baby tucked in under one arm.I should be used to it but anyway!

  7. During my last visit in Oct., waiting at Chengdu’s huge intersections in hazy air, this is definetly an improvement! Looks a bit steep, good for legs and heart though!!!
    Wishing you a speedy subway system next!
    I like your City!

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