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Update from Beijing

Back in Beijing. On first appearance, things (read ‘Transportation’) didn’t change very much since spring 2008. That is a surprising statement. It means that congestion as perceived by the casual observer didn’t detoriate - it even looks acceptable at most times during the day. A Beijing success story?

Beijing implemented a number of measures for the Olympic Games to deal with congestion and air pollution. That included an alternate driving ban based on odd/even numbers, effectively excluding half of the vehicle fleet every day. To no surpise the congestion situation improved dramatically during the Games. Due to this success, some of the measures were continued, modified or extended:

• Ban of cars according to licence plate number once a week • Parking management (from 1 Yuan/hr outside of the 4th ring to 5 Yuan/hr for the ‘affluent’ neighbourshoods inside the 4th ring • By now 650 bus routes, >250 km bus-only lanes, 200km subway with 6 lines, and 3 BRT lines • Car free day (but forget that one: 2 streets are to be closed on Sep 22).

Thumbnail image for beijingtrnas.png
Beijing added subway and BRT routes

According to BJTRC, peak hour speed increased by 2-3 km/h, and the congestion index decreased from 7.54 to 5.15 (a scale from 0-10, where 10 is worst congestion and 0 zero congestion; the index is calculated as as nonlinear function of the percentage in time where streets are below a certain congestion speed - 20km/h for Expressways, 15km/h for secondary roads, and 10km/h for collectors). Such an improvement translates into billions of Yuan per year in time savings. The real savings/social benefits depends on the opportunity costs of those who can’t drive their car due to the ban. Can they work at home? Can they easily switch to public transit, or car pool? A pricing instruments, such as a city toll for Beijing would be more efficient according to economic theory, but a full accounting of transaction and opportunity costs might reveal that a car ban is not such a bad thing in economic praxis. It’s not a long-term measure, however, as rising car ownership overcomes the driving ban by sheer numbers.

Public transit, i.e. bus plus subway increased its modal share from 30.2% to 36.6%, thus absorbing nearly all additional transport demand (4 million more trips per day). However, the number of car trips also increased. Hence, there is probably not much of a modal shift from car to public transit. At least some additional car transport may have been avoided.

There are currently two issues that need more attention: land-use and NMT (non-motorized transport). Land-use means the construction of new satellite cities, their distance to work places, and work place distribution. For non-motorized transport the big problems are safety, and barriers. Whereas Beijing has separate broad bike lanes along many roads, crossing of big arteries is a huge safety issue and many people cite this as their number one reason for not cycling. Also, at some streets its difficult to find a suitable crossing - hence streets/expressways constitute a considerable obstacle for pedestrians and cyclists. Much to be done - but Beijing is on the right track.


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