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Posts from the "China" Category

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Congestion Charging on the Horizon for China’s Cities

shanghai

Photo of Shanghai traffic: Bert van Dijk

Which Chinese city will be the first to try congestion pricing? Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai — megacities whose populations are on the scale of New York’s? Or second-tier but still mighty cities (think Chicago) like Hangzhou, Nanjing, or Xi’an?

Road tolling à la American turnpikes and thruways is already extensive in China, as a means to finance highways rather than manage traffic. Increasingly, however, with traffic and vehicle exhaust demonstrably harming business as well as human health in dozens of cities, and with strategies like quotas on new vehicles unable to offset the growth in driving, officials are looking to “economic measures.” Tolling vehicle entries to congested city centers has established a strong enough track record elsewhere in improving traffic flow and air quality that it is attracting interest not just from municipal officials but also from China’s national transport and environment ministries.

Cordon or congestion pricing, as such tolling is called, was Topic “A” last week in Hangzhou, a city of nearly 4 million (6 million counting suburbs) south of Shanghai. Some 200 officials and academics from 11 provinces, 30 cities, and at least a dozen universities packed a two-day “International Forum on Economic Policies for Traffic Congestion and Tailpipe Emissions” organized by the Energy Foundation China. Representatives from the four largest world cities with cordon tolling — Singapore, London, Stockholm and Milan — related their successes and fielded questions on everything from the digital nuts and bolts of tolling technologies to the political path that led to implementation. I was invited to report on NYC’s mixed record and share analytical insights from my traffic modeling work.

I’m still sifting impressions, but here are some takeaways thus far:

  • The biggest driver of China’s interest in congestion pricing is air pollution, with gridlock, which is spreading to more hours and more areas in every city, a close second. “Congestion and ‘smogs’ have become major concerns of the public and major bottlenecks for urban development,” summed up one high-ranking official.
  • Revenue generation for public transport — a huge motivator for tolling vehicle trips into the Manhattan Central Business District — is downplayed as a rationale for congestion pricing, perhaps because Chinese drivers already pay road tolls. Revenue may become politically salient, however, as dwindling revenues from sales of land force municipalities to come up with other ways to finance transit lines.
  • The economist’s paradigm of “congestion causation” (the aggregate delay to other road users caused by each additional car trip to the CBD) has barely surfaced in transportation planning and the design of road pricing instruments in China, yet it seems an important metric for screening candidate cities for congestion pricing.

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Car Ownership May Be Down in the U.S., But It’s Soaring Globally

The number of cars per person more than doubled in China in just four years. This BMW ad is designed for the booming Chinese market. Photo: Ads of China

Two weeks ago, transportation researcher Michael Sivak brought us the news that there are fewer cars per person in the U.S. now than there were a few years ago – and that the number isn’t expected to rise again.

But globally, the trend is in the opposite direction, and it’s alarming. The world is producing more cars than ever. A new report from the Worldwatch Institute shows that automobile production hit a new high in 2012 — and 2013 is expected to surpass that record. “According to London-based IHS Automotive, passenger-car production rose from 62.6 million in 2011 to 66.7 million in 2012, and it may reach 68.3 million in 2013,” write Worldwatch’s Michael Renner and Maaz Gardeziin. “When cars are combined with light trucks, total light vehicle production rose from 76.9 million in 2011 to 81.5 million in 2012 and is projected to total 83.3 million in 2013.”

The troubling new reality is that while the United States and other developed countries are beginning to lay off the gas, other countries are accelerating wildly. Though the U.S. still has by far the largest fleet of passenger cars, auto sales in China overtook the U.S. in 2011. In 2010, the number of cars in the world hit one billion.

Taken together, Brazil, Russia, India and China (the "BRICs") buy more cars that the United States. Image: The Economist

The number of cars per person in the U.S. has been declining since 2006. But in other countries, the trend is ever upward. According to World Bank data, there were 18 passenger cars per 1,000 Chinese in 2006 and 44 cars per 1,000 in 2010. The Arab world and Eastern Europe have seen tremendous growth in private car ownership over the same period – from 87 to 123 cars per thousand people in Jordan, 18 to 36 in Syria, 230 to 345 in Bulgaria, 351 to 451 in Poland. In the meantime, U.S. rates declined from 453 to 423 per thousand. France, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom also saw declines.

In 2011, the OECD’s International Transport Forum forecast that the number of cars worldwide would reach 2.5 billion by 2050, with the growth expected to be almost entirely in the developing world. At an ITF meeting, a Chinese professor dismissed the idea of bicycles as an alternative means of transportation, despite the fact that China is famous for its bicycle rush hour. The professor said, apparently without irony, that bicycle use in Beijing is declining “due to poor air quality and the danger from car traffic.”

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The Biggest, Baddest Bike-Share in the World: Hangzhou China

Anyone who claims that bike-sharing is a European-style transportation innovation has clearly never set foot in Hangzhou, China. The 50,000-bike system in this southern China city of almost 7 million people (about 1.5 million people fewer than New York City) blows all other bike-shares off the map. As Bradley Schroeder of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy said, “I don’t think there is anywhere you can stand in Hangzhou for more than a minute or two where you wouldn’t have a Hangzhou Public Bike go past you.”

Hangzhou’s 2,050 bike-share stations are spaced less than a thousand feet from each other in the city center, and on an average day riders make 240,000 trips using the system. Its popularity and success have set a new standard for bike-sharing in Asia. And the city is far from finished. The Hangzhou Bicycle Company plans to expand the bike-share system to 175,000 bikes by 2020.

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Guangzhou, China: Winning the Future With Bus Rapid Transit

Guangzhou is one of the fastest growing cities in the world. The economic hub of China’s southern coast, it has undergone three decades of rapid modernization, and until recently the city’s streets were on a trajectory to get completely overrun by traffic congestion and pollution. But Guangzhou has started to change course. Last year the city made major strides to cut carbon emissions and reclaim space for people, launching new bus rapid transit and public bike sharing systems.

The Guangzhou BRT system opened in February 2010. It now carries 800,000 passengers a day, seamlessly connecting riders to both the metro system and the city’s new bike-share network. For these innovations, Guangzhou won the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy’s 2011 Sustainable Transport Award. Watch this Streetfilm and see how one of the world’s most dynamic cities is, to borrow a phrase from President Obama, “winning the future” on its streets.

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In Any Language, the Cost of Congestion Comes Through Loud and Clear

komanoff_graph.jpgAn analysis using the Balanced Transportation Analyzer shows how much time individual drivers steal from fellow drivers by choosing to drive into the New York City CBD.
It’s not often that you get to see your work set off a Eureka moment for someone else -- particularly when that someone is from a different culture. But I had that experience recently, and it seems worth sharing on Streetsblog in light of the interest shown today in my analysis of the travel delay costs from FreshDirect deliveries.

I presented a paper last week at an international forum on traffic congestion in Guangzhou, China. People in that city are beginning to look at congestion pricing, and I was asked to discuss why the Bloomberg toll plan failed politically.

As part of my talk, I described the “social delay costs” from an additional car trip into the center of Manhattan -- literally, the total time that all road users combined spend in traffic because any one of them decided to drive. Afterwards, one of the organizers, a professor of transportation engineering, asked me to present a technical version of my paper to his students at South China University of Technology.

The next day, when I came to the part about social-delay costs, the professor peppered me with questions about my methodology. As I went through the steps -- basically, every trip takes up an incremental amount of limited street space, which lowers speeds, which adds to everyone's travel times -- the professor grew more intrigued. It wasn’t that the idea itself was new, but that if traffic speeds and other baseline data were known, then the delay-impact of one trip could be quantified. And, moreover, that the impact varied enormously depending on the time of day: when there is ample spare road capacity, say, in the middle of the night, an extra trip has little discernible impact, whereas one trip during congested peak times adds several hours to the aggregate time that all other vehicles must spend on the road.

I daresay that for the professor, my elucidation of one trip’s delay costs helped move congestion pricing from the realm of abstraction to something tangible and, perhaps, essential. If a peak trip to the center of New York or some other city can impose one or two hundred minutes worth of delays on others -- and if no driver is ever called on to take that impact into consideration -- then of course the city will be awash in gridlock. No city, not even Guangzhou, despite an emerging 21st century transit infrastructure of Bus Rapid Transit and new subway lines, will be able to forestall the tide of free driving.

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“Do as We Say, Not as We Do” = No Model for Sustainability

jams.jpgTraffic in Delhi and Atlanta. Notice which scene also includes bikes. Photos: Ri Co Fo To and silvrayn via Flickr
Environmentally-conscious citizens of India aren't alone in their concern about the rollout of the Tata Nano, the "world's cheapest car." But in an op-ed piece for Forbes, Projjal Dutta, the director of sustainability initiatives for the MTA, writes that American critics should look to their own example if they expect developing nations to follow a more sustainable path.

As with many other issues, the world will expect America's "talk" -- say, urging China and India not to become auto-centric -- to be accompanied by "walk," at home. That, unfortunately, despite early glimmers of hope, is not happening. The stimulus bill has allocated about 8 billion dollars to transit, compared with 30 billion to highways. This is roughly in keeping with the traditional 80/20 split of federal transportation funds that have been enshrined since the Eisenhower days. If we are to get serious about halting climate-change, this split will also have to change.

Dutta cites Japanese and European models -- "Make cars, buy cars, just don't drive them all the time." -- as potential templates for India and other developing economies, so long as they, too, make adequate investments in public transportation.

The same could be said of the U.S., where the average citizen consumes 25 times as much energy as the average Indian. Dutta suggests America will need to commit to a long-term, "multi-generational" approach to transit development if it wants the kind of results already evident in its most urbanized cities.

The average Texan consumes approximately 500 million BTU per year, about six to seven times that consumed by a resident of New York City or San Francisco. The difference largely results from level of dependence on the automobile. Metropolitan regions where many people travel by public transportation (or by bicycles or on foot) are inherently more carbon-efficient than places that rely almost exclusively on automobiles, which is to say, most of the United States.

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Wiki Wednesday: Beijing

All the overhead shots of the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube on NBC's Olympic coverage don't leave much room for views of Beijing's streets. But that's where much of the commotion about smog, absentee athletes and particle masks originates. While the city has taken the unwieldy step of rationing license plates to clear the skies (until the Games leave town, at least), air quality could have been drastically improved by transportation planning with greater foresight.

In the StreetsWiki entry on Beijing, contributor Meg Saggese looks at the decline of bicycling as the city's dominant mode of transportation, and its prospects for revival:

beijing.jpgThe hordes of bicycles that ruled Beijing's streets even two decades ago, however, are quickly becoming the stuff of nostalgia. In the 1990s, around half a billion bikes were still in use throughout the country. At the time, families in Beijing chose bicycles for 60 percent of their trips. By 2007, that figure was down to 20 percent. The culprit? Every day, a thousand more cars hit the pavement. As a result, bicycling has become a perilous affair on streets where vehicles predominate and traffic laws are poorly enforced. But only a few of those who have stopped biking can afford a car. The vast majority are forced to dismount by the rising danger in the streets and the worsening air quality of the city. Recently, even prominent leaders within the environmental community and the bike industry have decided to stop riding, citing the increased hazards.[3]

Many observers are tempted to applaud this transformation as the outcome of newly-acquired affluence and to reject the memory of bicycle-packed thoroughfares as a sign of former poverty. But some press accounts tell a different story. Immersed in congestion and gridlock, many residents feel betrayed by the false promise of automobiles. The city center comes to a standstill at rush hour, and the air is dangerous to breathe. Returning to bicycles becomes harder and harder with every new car.

We'll see after the Olympics whether the Communist Party's newfound enthusiasm for clear skies translates into more bike-friendly policies for Beijing.

As always, don't be shy about editing the post. Join the Livable Street Network to contribute.

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Nano Technology

Burning_Nano_540x324.jpg

The much-hyped and much-criticized Tata Nano, a car that will hit the Indian market retailing for a mere 100,000 rupees -- the equivalent of $2,500 -- got a perplexing nod of approval from the Economist newsmagazine last week:

Commuting in India's cities can be both cosy and deadly. Children squeeze snugly between father at the handlebars of a motorcycle, and mother riding side-saddle at the back. This precarious balancing act, says Mr Tata was the "visual target" he had in mind when he first conceived of the need "to create another form of transport." About 1,800 people die on Delhi's roads each year, perhaps one-third of them on two-wheelers. Only 5% die in cars. Tata's project may pose risks for investors, but it promises unaccustomed safety for customers.

While we don't have all the data needed to crunch the assumptions in that road-death statistic (what percentage are traveling in cars to begin with, for instance?), it's hard to imagine that an influx of Tata Nanos is going to magically bring order to the streets of India. A New York Times article discussing chaotic driving habits in the country's capital quotes a police official in New Delhi on his views:

"My concern is not with cars. My concern is with drivers," said Suvashish Choudhary, the deputy commissioner of police. "Every new car will bring new drivers who are not trained for good city driving."

In China, the other huge new market targeted by auto manufacturers, recently released statistics suggest his concern is well-placed. Road deaths there are on the rise, even as they decline in other parts of the world.

Meanwhile, protesters on the site of the factory that will manufacture the new car torched the Nano in effigy (above) in protest over the company's seizure of farmland to make way for the plant: "Until farmers get back their land forcibly acquired for the Tata Motors small car plant at Singur," said one organizer, according to the Economic Times of India, "we will not allow the company to manufacture cars there."

Photo: Strdel/AFP/Getty Images

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Smoggy China to Observe World Car Free Day

china_traffic.jpg

The Financial Times reports that China's cities will participate in this year's World Car Free Day. These actions have a measureable effect. A recent study found that when Beijing ordered 800,000 cars off the roads for three days last year, local nitrogen oxide air pollution fell by 40 per cent.

More than 100 Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai are to take part in the country's first official urban "car-free day", barring automobiles from selected areas and ordering officials to swap their black sedans for public transport.

The decision to join other urban centres around the world in holding "no car" events on September 22 is a reflection of growing concerns about congestion, pollution and global warming that are clouding China's passionate love affair with the automobile.

In a report on the planned car-free day, the official Xinhua news agency said Beijing - where traffic jams are already a daily occurrence - was adding 1,000 new private cars a day, and that transport accounted for 20 per cent of society's total energy consumption. The government news agency said 106 cities had signed formal pledges to take part in the car-free day and an associated week-long promotion of public transport.

"City government leaders must set an example in taking part in this activity by going to work by public transport, walking or riding bicycles," Xinhua said.

Photo: phoney/Flickr
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Black Clouds Over China


The balloon says: Drive one day less and look how much carbon dioxide you'll keep out of the air we breathe.

While the Chinese economy is booming, the skies above its cities are blackening. China will actually pass the United States as the world's biggest source of greenhouse gases this year.

The World Wildlife Federation started a campaign in China to raise awareness of the issue.  The photo is their way of helping people visualize the problem. On their site www.20to20.org, which is geared toward China, you can take an energy quiz and download 20 tips to reduce CO2 emissions.

Thanks to Newton Streets for finding this one.