You know the Huangpu Riverside Trail? It's pretty good. But it's on the far side of the river, an entire metro stop away from Puxi. You know what isn't?
The Suzhou Creek Fitness Track (our rough translation of 苏州河健身步道). A multi-stage development, part of the greater Shanghai Greenway initiative, it hugs the southern bank of Suzhou Creek, starting at Jiangsu Bei Lu Bridge and running west. The 3.7km Phase 1 opened in 2018. The 1.9km Phase 2 opened this July. By the end of 2020, the municipal government plans to have 42km of jogger-friendly pathway open to the public.
So how is it?
Part 1: Phase 2 (Opened July 2019)
The start of the trail is just past Jiangsu Bei Lu Bridge, heading east along Wanhangdu Lu.
In case the "Bike Parking" monument wasn't obvious enough, they don't want you biking on this. Flower pots block either end of the elevated embankment. This part of the street is littered with discarded bikes anyway. Some of these fossils date back to before the running track was a twinkle in an urban planner's eye.
As the newest part, the easternmost end leaves a good impression. Raised about a meter off the road traffic and fenced in, it's a synthetic rubber running track with ample space and seating.
And what seating! This is the most high-tech bench you've ever seen.
Solar charged, battery-powered, you can connect to it by USB or Bluetooth and, the sign promises, you can use it to play music.
I couldn't get it to work. Probably for the best. Didn't seem like a Wu-Tang neighborhood.
This stretch isn't very long. Maybe four hundred meters of space-age running track before it dips down off the Creek embankment, turning into a red path that runs roughshod over the pavement right next to the road. The cracks start showing immediately.
The next portion doesn't start long after, thankfully. It's a right turn around the apartment block, squeezed in beside a gate. The path runs right through it and it's nicely labelled. Can't miss it.
It's not as wide, but it's bordered on the left side by a wavy fence separating you from quiet neighborhoods, and the gentle curve of the Creek on the right.
The path here continues on for another hundred meters or so before higher education strikes without warning.
I have no clue what the blue section on the map is like. It backs directly onto the East China University of Political Science, so maybe they have refreshment stands manned by beaming student volunteers. Maybe it's beset with pit traps and rabid animals. Who knows! This part of the ostensibly public Suzhou Creek Fitness Track stops dead, at a locked gate, and the only way to go is back where you came, out onto the street.
What the fuck. After a thoroughly dispiriting backtrack and trip around, we pick up at the other end, also known as the start of...
Part 2: Phase 1 (Opened New Year 2018)
This stretch will be familiar to Changning residents. It's been open since early, early 2018, a tiny sliver of that rubber running track barely wide enough for two people, bordered by a concrete wall on the right and a flood of traffic a hands-breadth to your left.
It's... all right.
Sick ramps, though.
Past the foot/ebike bridge, it turns back into two hundred meters of Phase 2 standard running track: the path widens out, there are benches and greenery and little squares for enriching social activities.
Before the left curve in the creek is a gate to a very chic residential compound.
This is where I had a run-in with a security guard about the bike I was riding. I'd only taken it because I knew jogging something like 5.6km would've taken me a day and cost me a lung. The first two two bao'ans I'd passed had half-heartedly harrumphed at me from their seats. This guy planted himself like Gandalf and insisted I get off my bike.
A real hawk! Wouldn't even let me walk it through. So I locked my bike to his gate and proceeded on foot.
The track gives way to a tree-lined paved boulevard, basically a park. It gets packed as residents filter down for their evening strolls.
Soon as I got out of the compound, I grabbed a shared bike and kept going.
Suck it, the Man!
This is the final stretch, a roughly two kilometer straight shot to the finish at Shuangliu Lu (actually a little further, under the overpass). It starts with a broad, green wooden boardwalk overhanging the river. This part alone is worth the trip out, for an early-morning stroll or an evening jog.
It peters out, following the road a bit further.
It ends, under the overpass, with a bike path to the left, and a solid wall of concrete to the right.
Part 3: Phase ? (TBA)
I actually biked on a little further from this point, mostly out of curiosity. The walking path deteriorated quickly.
There's actually another stretch marked with the same Shanghai Greenway signs that had sporadically marked the last 5-ish kilometers. There was a little park there, which seemed ideal for jogging, so if you manage to avoid getting cold-cocked by a delivery scooter getting around that pylon, you can add another 500 meters or so to your fitness tracker. Or you can wait until 2020 when they hopefully open up the rest of this sucker. Minhang-bound, baby!
Is it as good as the Huangpu Riverside Trail? No. Not even close. Cracked and inconsistent pathways, that awful stretch on Phase 1, that goddamn university gate. A high-tech bench or two but not a single toilet paper dispenser. Zero!
But it is in Puxi. It's also way less crowded, there are stretches that are genuinely beautiful, and it passes through a tableau of urban life, construction work and all.
Forget the "fitness" part, go for a long walk instead and you'll have a good time. Don't take a bike.