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Bram Van Ooijen

Bram has lived in Guangzhou only for four years, yet he talks fluently and with an assured sense of familiarity about the city's roadways. His job, for a nongovernmental organization headquartered in New York, is to help Guangzhou in its road design, its parking and its growing network of greenways.

The Dutch native first visited Guangzhou in 2006 as an intern for the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), working on the planning of the Tianhe district's Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. During his four-month stay, he conducted a three-month survey on cycling for convenient access to aBRT stations, researching the bicycling infrastructure in the BRTsystem and presenting solutions to problems.

The city was making preparations for the Asian Games. He witnessed the huge development of Guangzhou, especially in Zhujiang New Town. "It was for me a very interesting experience of internship," he says. "Zhujiang New Town was not there, still undeveloped and isolated. I thought it would be very interesting to be involved in developing Guangzhou. I didn't have much expectation when I came to Guangzhou. But I felt energy
and joy of life in Guangzhou. So I decided I have to comeback."

After receiving a master of science degree in Civil Engineering from Holland's Twente University and working for a while in the Netherlands, he returned to Guangzhou in 2010 with full-time employment with ITDP. He assists city government departments in planning and designing good infrastructures and enhancing walking and cycling opportunities.

The Guangzhou program that Bram now is involved with focuses on greenway designs and street designs soothing better conditions for walking and cycling. "The Guangzhou mayor really wants to improve better walking and cycling infrastructure in some of the central areas in Guangzhou," says Bram. "For instance, we redesigned areas in Taojin, Zhujiang New Town and the old Xiguan, for government bureaus. For instance we cooperate with the forestry and landscaping bureau who have great knowledge and experience on tree plantation, landscaping, waterfalls and beautiful stones. However, to make a successful greenway you also need convenient walkways and continuous bicycle lanes. They do not have much experience doing that. With us being transport engineers and them being landscape architects, we have a very good

Greenway in Nansha district

In Europe, especially in Holland, bicycling is very popular. Bram regards bicycling as an easy and fast way to get around the city, but only if the streets are convenient and safe for cycling. He cycles to work every day from his home in Huaqiao Xincun (Oversees Chinese Village) to his office on Huanshi Road. "When I ride my bike to the office, I never sweat in summer,"he explains. "But when I walk, I sweat."

Bram adds, "The same as in Europe, people in China begin to buy cars when they are richer and richer and the number of cyclists drops. The roads became narrow for bicycles and cars have taken over, bringing pollution and traffic jams. Cycling has become more difficult and parents can be afraid their kids are in danger when riding a bike. But Guangzhou was also the first city in China to build greenways. Guangzhou is aggressive and thinking faster than other Chinese cities. They hope to change the city environment and the greenway system is a good start."

Another of Bram's roles is as a partner with Cycle Canton. On weekends he guides visitors, expats and locals through beautiful alleys and streets in the old city. Asked where the most successful greenway in Guangzhou is, he answers, "Dong Hao Chong." This stream from Baiyun Mountain links Dongfeng Road to Zhongshan Road. Before the Guangzhou Asian Games, the government cleaned the polluted creek. "The greenway along Dong Hao Chong is successful because it has really improved the urban landscape," Bram says. "The water is clean and children even swim in it. There are trees and flowers along the river and you can safely walk through the whole city center."

"Guangzhou is known to be a commercial city rather than a sightseeing city," Bram adds. "But I still believe there are a lot of interesting things to see in the flower city. Guangzhou locals should be proud of the beauty of their city."

Bram said most expatriates like living in Zhujiang New Town and rarely experience the heart of the city areas like Wende Road, Chenghuang Temple (City God Temple) and Renmin Park. "Many places in Guangzhou without cars are worth visiting," Bram suggests. "For example, Xiaozhou village keeps the ancient tradition and natural landscapes that make for a peaceful weekend."

Bram and his friends pose for photo in front of the Canton Tower

Bram plans t o stay and work in Guangzhou for quite some time. "My girlfriend is from Guangzhou," he says. "My job is to continue planning the future for Guangzhou. I hope my family from Holland will say of Guangzhou, 'Wow, the city you are living in is wonderful.'" 

(By Jessie Huang)

Editor:Lynus Tan
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