Insights into China’s traffic management plans

Not bad for a former fishing village

13,000 buses on 530 lines. 178kms of subway lines, with 1,000kms planned by 2020. US$3bn spent annually on capital investment in rail and bus. US$150m spent on intelligent transport solutions (ITS). All intersections with interconnected video detectors. Sound like Berlin or another a well set-up European capital? You’d be wrong. This is Shenzen, a former fishing village lying in the shadow of Hong Kong across the border, which has exploded in just three decades to a city of 15 million people, and become of the workshops of the world.

But just like many of emerging Chinese megacities, local citizens are rushing to invest in cars as soon as they’re able, not only for perceived convenience, but also as a status symbol of relative affluence. As a result, the city’s planners are rushing to make city-wide public transport as widespread and convenient as possible, to avoid the extreme gridlock that cities like Beijing have experienced. To do so, planners from both Shenzhen and Beijing are tapping into the expertise of some of the world’s top experts. And if you wanted to understand dealing with traffic, who better to call than the Los Angeles Metro? Metro deputy CEO Paul Taylor duly visited Beijing and Shenzhen for a street-level view of the issues, and wrote up a set of notes of the current statuses of both cities, which makes for eye-widening reading.

Take Beijing, which already tore apart much of the city to implement an impressively well-run and efficient underground metro for the 2008 Olympics. The problem for the city is that while the share of commuters using public transport is slightly above those driving (38-40%, versus 35% on 4-wheels, and 18% on bicycle), the trends are moving in the wrong directions. As such, the metro system is being expanded from 228kms to 336kms by year end, with 150 stations. By 2020, the city wants 1,000kms of metro (Beijing, to put things into perspective, is approximately the size of Belgium; something your correspondent started to appreciate when trying to cross from one side of the city to the other), while expanding park-and-ride schemes, the bicycle network, and the scale of its bus rapid transit (BRT) scheme from 200 miles to 300 miles in the near future.

Despite these impressive gains, the Chinese capital has its work cut out for it: there are already 4.5 million private cars registered in the city, and 1,900 are added every day. Accordingly, much attention is being paid to real-time traffic monitoring. All of the city’s 60,000 taxis has GPSes built in, so that their average speeds can be monitored (the average is 15-20mph). The city’s traffic management bureau has worked with MIT to develop dynamic traffic simulation models to analyse and predict congestion. But given the recent news of 100+km traffic jams in the city, lasting up to 9 days, a lot more will need to be done.

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