Traffic. Smog. Noise. Whether you’re forced to breathe in the pollution or navigate endless traffic jams, an overabundance of cars can make living in a city an unbearable nightmare. But when one country tried to fix their overflow of gas-guzzlers, it didn’t go as planned.
Officials in China thought they could solve the severe traffic issues by encouraging other forms of transportation. But that solution quickly spiraled out of control and left the country littered with bizarre “fields” that defy explanation.
Owning a car in a major metropolitan area is expensive and inconvenient due to horrific traffic jams. Public transportation is not a perfect solution as it can be unreliable, so people are getting creative with how they get around.
That’s why, over the last five years, bike sharing companies popped up in cities all across the world. In China, bikes have been a viable and efficient form of transportation since the 1970s. For decades they were more popular than cars.
In the ’90s, things changed. The government began instituting strict regulations on bicycle traffic to stimulate the automotive industry and get people to use public transportation. This tactic worked, making bikes passe by the mid 2000s. It didn’t come without setbacks.
All of a sudden, the city was overrun with cars. The cars created tons of traffic. The traffic became a curse to major cities in China including Shanghai and Beijing. As if that weren’t bad enough, something completely unpredictable caused even more people to abandon public transportation.
The SARS outbreak caused people to view the close-quarters of trains and buses as giant petri dishes ripe with infectious and deadly bacteria. So, in their cars, they sat in traffic without a viable solution. Until, some smart businessmen had a great idea.
Ofo is a bike sharing company that started as a small university project. It shortly began to take over the streets of Shanghai and spurred the founding of other very similar companies like Mobike. Before too long, bikes were once again taking over in China.
Using two wheels instead of four brought back the nostalgia of simpler times for many citizens. Plus, the bikes were easy and convenient, requiring a moderate deposit and a nominal fee to ride around and leave wherever you wanted.
Because of the positive reception, companies doubled down, sending an impressive fleet of bikes out on the streets in hopes of more and more people relying on them as transportation. What could go wrong? China was a bike country before.
But things went wrong indeed. The number of cars on the road did not change, bikes were just added to the equation, creating overly crowded roadways. This meant the bikers were left to use the sidewalks. However, pedestrians became frustrated with the bikes.
Signs began to appear on sidewalks and some streets that warned against bike usage in certain areas. Without a place to ride them, the bikes became a complicated and annoying affair for riders.
Due to the bikes becoming less convenient, they lost popularity among commuters. The thing is, the bikes had nowhere else to go but out on the city streets. They began to pile up into unsightly obstacles, taking up entire walkways and spilling into intersections.
Walkers would have to squeeze between huge stacks of unused bicycles to get where they needed to go. Of course, this was an absurd problem that required intervention. There was a plan to rescue these cities from the growing bicycle invasion.
To curb the bike problem, workers in trucks were hired to stack the bikes neatly and disperse them more evenly throughout the city. Even so, the unsightly mess of spokes and handlebars persisted, begging the powers that be to find an actual solution.
Unfortunately, this spelled financial disaster for the many companies and their investors who had gone all in on the bike sharing craze. They began to drop like flies due to a lack of profits to maintain an aggressive production schedule.
This is when the bikes began to be relocated to remote areas while it was decided what to do with them. Hundreds of thousands of bikes were left to rot in various locations across China, taking up miles of land and serving no purpose.
Photographer Mathias Guillin saw the wasteful and ugly reminder of this transportation failure as an opportunity to create something beautiful. He used his drone to capture the shocking scale of the pedal wasteland.
His artistic instincts were dead-on. The pictures he took made the mistake look like some type of community art project. The distinctive patterns and colors were impressive from behind the lens of his drone camera.
The intricate yet messy appearance is visually stimulating and the colorful collection of shades look like an impressionist painting. As disheartening as it is to see such a waste of resources, the photographs are very cool.
This particular view of the bikes makes them appear to be a menacing, Easter-egg colored group of soldiers planning to take over enemy territory. Sadly, most of the bikes are locked by the broken system they used to operate with and are unusable.
The people who own the bikes are still trying to figure out what they are going to do with all these derelict attempts at resurrecting the bike empire of China. For now they lay in wait, reminding passersby about the pitfalls of a saturated industry.
The transportation industry is one of many causing irreparable harm to China. Pollution has always been an issue in China, and it’s getting worse. Can you imagine a future where a fake skyline must be erected for tourists because the real landscape is too smoggy?
2. This smog looks like a disaster film, but it’s all too real. Air pollution is so common in China that people don’t think twice to commute to work as if everything was normal. It’s become a part of daily life.
3. Here, chemical waste lies stagnant beneath a sheet of ice. One woman stops to fill up a water bottle of the nasty stuff just to show other people how bad the conditions have gotten. It looks like a river of blood, not water!
4. In this photo, a fisherman wades into the water to sift through thousands of poisoned fish. Clearly, there must be some seriously nasty chemicals flowing through those waves…
5. Massive oil spills are another example of just how much pollution is out of control in countries like China. Just imagine how tough it must be to clean up something like this—the guy’s suit is covered in it!
6. Cleaning another oil spill off the coast requires a team of many people, and yet even their numbers don’t make this effort any less daunting. Look at the scale of that mess!
7. These clouds of smog cover the Beijing skyline. If you didn’t know that they were caused by pollution, there would almost be something eerily fantastic about this dense cloud coverage…
8. Water that’s filled to the brim with waste is such a frequent occurrence in some parts of China that it doesn’t deter young children—like the one pictured here—from swimming in it.
9. A flood recedes after scattering trash all over the street. Rather than make any effort to clean it up, the citizens are so used to this level of pollution that they just focus on walking through the mess to get to where they need to go.
10. This factory sends plumes of smoke into the sky every day and the folks riding by on their bicycles are so used to sights like this that all they do is keep moving. It must be so difficult to breathe!
11. How gross is this dead fish floating to the top of a freshwater lake? It’s clear that this is no longer water that can even sustain much life. The troubling green color is enough to make anyone’s stomach turn over.
12. Chemical waste and sewage litter the land around this pipe, transforming the natural beauty into an unsightly chemical mess. Look at that shocking pink color, not to mention all of the waste piling up!
13. It’s hard not to be saddened by this sewage pipe spilling its contents into the ocean, filling the water with not just human waste, but with whatever else happened to make its way into the cities’ sewers.
14. These plastic bottles actually litter a forgotten corner of the Great Wall, one of China’s most legendary accomplishments and one of the wonders of the world. What a true tragedy!
15. In some parts of China, the pollution is more visible than in other parts of the country. This might look like a scene from some movie set, but it’s actually a photograph of a plant where old cars are burned down.
16. In other parts of the world, canals are used to transport goods and can make for a fun and scenic way to travel around a city. However, this canal in China is so polluted that the waters are actually eating away at the adjacent buildings.
17. People will leave their garbage wherever it’s the most convenient for them. Some folks will try to clear the trash away, while others—like this man—settle for simply making a walkable path through the muck.
18. The ancient art of tai chi has been practiced in China for thousands of years. In the morning hours, students gather to practice this form of martial arts to help them stay healthy. Unfortunately, the smog can’t be very good for their health.
19. The constant demand for manufacturing in China has had a tremendous cost not just on the cities, but on the countryside, as well. Now even rural China is beginning to feel the effects of pollution and the blight of deforestation.
20. This Chinese bride was hoping to get a couple of beautiful photographs to commemorate her big day. Unfortunately, the air conditions were so bad outside that she was forced to wear a mask. That’s certainly memorable, but probably not in the way she intended!