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.
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.