Transportation: The Modern Day Hutong
Friday started a little desperately: we weren't sure what kind of survey style would provide the most insight; we couldn't agree on the most time-efficient way to maximize information yield. After a bit of debate, we settled on the exact street our capstone presentation would be displayed on -- Tieshu Byway, which morphed into Dashilan West Street, and lastly Dashilan Commercial Street -- as our research destination, and off we went.
Our first plan of attack was to conduct a broad survey of the space, so we decided to count how many stationary vehicles were present in a 10-minute walk of the byway. After deciding on a particular intersection to start the count -- right next to a restaurant called 欣悅 -- we walked down the street, noting the position -- left vs right -- the vehicle was parked on the street and wrote down abbreviations roughly corresponding to their location on the street. After 10 minutes, we stopped right next to a boy's bathroom, as it was a good pinpoint location. We found bikes to be the majority, even discounting the giant row that a bike rental shop simply left on the side of the road. Do the bikes not get rained on or lose value when dust settles on them? Curious.
We also did a stationary count of vehicles and pedestrians that passed by in a 30-minute interval, as displayed in the pie chart above. We see an overwhelming majority of pedestrians, with electric vehicles a close second.
Afterwards, we stationed ourselves next to a particularly congested portion of the street -- in front of Alice's Tea House -- and videotaped cars trying to pass through this human-created bottleneck. We struck up a conversation with the shop owner, who went on to give a brief lesson in Chinese history, describe the horrible driving conditions through this particular hutong, and suggest ways to improve car usage in Beijing. We also spotted two foreigners taking pictures of us further down the road, so we decided to approach and ask for their opinion. This turned out to be a gold mine, as the foreigners had lived in Beijing for 25 years each; one was a translator, the other worked as a contractor in the private sector. They produced a unique spin on the narrative: the story of someone who was once foreign but have since now assimilated into the culture.
This morning, we set out to try the Cognitive Mapping strategy. As most people we approached and interviewed refused to try drawing a map, we made a sketch based on the verbal description of a particular old woman sitting on the steps outside her house. We also realized, through subsequent interviews, that people didn't move much along the hutong space. Most either commuted to this hutong to work or lived behind their shop and walked out only to use the bathroom or buy groceries.
Advice to people wanting to replicate the study: people sometimes give you answers to questions you haven't even thought of asking. Our attempt to widen our questioning strategy helped a surprising amount today.