Car-free zone brings East Lake to life

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The greenway near Moshan Hill along East Lake in Wuhan, Hubei province. It is one of the largest tourist areas showcasing the traditional culture of Chu, an ancient state dating back to 8th century BC that produced renowned poet Qu Yuan. [Photo/CHINA DAILY] 

East Lake in Wuhan, Hubei province, has improved its environment and attracted more visitors since it created a car-free road linking scenic spots, coffee shops and bookstores.

The 102-kilometer greenway, the longest of its kind in the country, weaves around two of the several lakes at the site like two jade necklaces. It was opened to the public for free in December 2017.

Li Jinjie, a 46-year-old teacher from neighboring Wuhan University, said he jogs long distances on the greenway every week with others.

"A couple of years ago, there were many cars in the East Lake area and it was dangerous to run on the side of the road. Now, vehicles have been banned and we feel free to run across the entire area," he said, adding that the quiet greenway makes people feel close to nature and he hopes it doesn't become commercialized.

The greenway is equipped with more than 3,000 shared bikes and several sightseeing buses that run every 30 minutes.

In addition, it has universities and historic buildings nearby, which have helped it attract an increasing number of visitors.

Poets like Qu Yuan of the Warring States Period (475-221BC) and Li Bai, of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), used to recite poems beside the lake.

Li Bai saved and freed an eagle at East Lake, which has been memorialized by a statue.

Chairman Mao Zedong visited the lake more than 40 times and received political leaders from over 60 countries there.

Last October, 1.6 million tourists visited the East Lake Scenic Area during the seven-day National Day holiday, a record high that was double the previous year.

Li Donghui, director of the lake's eco-tourism management committee, said that many years of effort have turned the site into an international attraction for Wuhan.

"Athletes from all over the world have participated in marathons for the past three years at East Lake, and this year the yachting competition for the 7th International Military Sport Council Military World Games will be held here," he said.

Improvements have also been seen in the lake's water quality, which was deemed the lowest grade in the 1970s.

Liang Jing, who oversaw the second phase of greenway construction, said they made ecological protection a priority and allowed native plants to remain.

"For example, when we came across a native dawn redwood during construction, we would build a bridge to avoid cutting it," she said, adding that they also designed 13 culverts for small animals like rabbits and squirrels to pass beneath the road.