Tuesday, July 12, 2005

China's Car Culture

A letter to the editor of the New York Times:


Transportation planners in Shanghai are surprised that traffic is growing faster than expected: "Just one year after some roads were completed, they reached vehicle flow volumes that were forecast for 15 to 20 years from now." ("A City's Traffic Plans Are Snarled by China's Car Culture," July 12)

American Planners were just as surprised when the same thing happened here in the 1950s. Then studies explained the problem by showing that freeway building induces more traffic. For example, one recent study showed that, within five years after a major new freeway is built in California, 95% of its capacity fills up with traffic that would not have existed if the freeway had not been built.

Your article describes one commuter who faces such bad traffic that it takes him a full hour to commute 7 miles - considerably longer than it would take by bicycle. That is how congested China is today, when there is only 1 car for every 100 people.

Because of the high densities of Chinese cities, there is not enough land for all the roads that would be needed to accommodate Western levels of automobile ownership, over 50 cars for every 100 people. Congestion will only get worse if they keep building more freeways and encouraging more automobile use.

China should learn from Seoul, Korea, which is reducing congestion by taking street lanes away from automobiles so they can be used for Bus Rapid Transit.

Charles Siegel


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