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Between rail and road in Beijing
June 14, 2011 6:19 PM   Subscribe

China’s capital is restricting car numbers and pumping money into trains. Is it headed for a less congested future – or already a city beyond help?
posted by wilful (55 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Restricting car numbers? Those... those communists!
posted by benzenedream at 6:21 PM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wish Hong Kong's leaders would have the balls to restrict cars, but no, they're intent on building more roads instead of concentrating on developing the already awesome rail network.

It's not like we have endless space for more roads, and the air pollution from vehicles is bad enough as it is.
posted by bwg at 6:25 PM on June 14, 2011


China’s capital is restricting car numbers and pumping money into trains.

Gosh. Lucky.
posted by hal_c_on at 6:32 PM on June 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Perhaps they're less in denial about Peak Oil than we are.
posted by Trurl at 6:35 PM on June 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think insane congestion and pollution are bigger motivators for them right now than oil price (and I think this because of the article, and others like it --- traffic congestion has been notoriously bad in Beijing for a while).
posted by wildcrdj at 6:38 PM on June 14, 2011


Very wise move.
posted by Renoroc at 6:41 PM on June 14, 2011


For all the "exceptionalism" of the USA, it's interesting that only in Communist China is the government willing to make such sweeping and strategic decisions about the future of a major city. Can anyone imagine the American government even contemplating such a thing? The oil companies wouid prohibit it.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 6:51 PM on June 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Can anyone imagine the American government even contemplating such a thing? The oil companies wouid prohibit it.

Rail networks cost money. American cities and states don't have any money.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:53 PM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


it's interesting that only in Communist China is the government willing to make such sweeping and strategic decisions

Well, yeah, it's easier to make sweeping and strategic decisions in a one-party state. I'm not saying this isn't a good thing, but any big policy changes will be easier in such a government.
posted by wildcrdj at 6:55 PM on June 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


OneMonkeysUncle, the only people who believe that the USA is exceptional (in a universally positive manner) are a subset of the indoctrinated US population - it's really not a widely held view out in the real world.
posted by wilful at 6:56 PM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's interesting to point out that the current crop of China's leaders are nearly all engineers, and as such they take an engineering perspective towards solving a lot of the enormous problems they are facing. (Oddly enough, there's even a Wikipedia article about China's leaders being engineers)

One comment from a friend that really resonated with me was, imagine what the US would be like if our political leaders in the USA were from MIT instead of Harvard.
posted by jasonhong at 6:58 PM on June 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


American cities and states don't have any money.

That's because we pump our money into other stuff.
posted by Trurl at 6:59 PM on June 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Can anyone imagine the American government even contemplating such a thing? The oil companies wouid prohibit it.

Rail networks cost money. American cities and states don't have any money.

Meanwhile, federal subsidies to oil and gas industry: $4 billion / year

GAME OVER. PLAY AGAIN (Y/N)?
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:00 PM on June 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


imagine what the US would be like if our political leaders in the USA were from MIT instead of Harvard.

We'd be even more libertarian?
posted by wildcrdj at 7:02 PM on June 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


The article itself is a bit weak, sort of a mix of a short news and opinion piece. It does mention that the galvanizing factor was a six hour traffic jam throughout the city, and that the push for subways is coming from the population, not the government.

Also, subway building is 96% cheaper in China than the US, thanks, in part, to loose safety restrictions and easy land seizures - $100 million per mile versus $2.4 billion per mile for New York.
posted by blahblahblah at 7:03 PM on June 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


They're talking about doing something similar in the Sydney CBD. I actually support it. I walk or take public transport everywhere. You need good urban density though.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:05 PM on June 14, 2011


That was a bit of a false dichotomy on my part, the federal budget being both fungible and distinct from state budgets, but it's amusing to imagine that we might have a nicer rail system if that $4 billion were used to fund our rail network instead of strengthening the car/gasoline stranglehold.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:06 PM on June 14, 2011


I played (I think the original) SimCity and worked out that you would *always* have road congestion and it would make your population unhappy, no matter how large you built the roads.

So I made a city that had no roads at all, just mass transit. The mass transit went everywhere. I had the happiest populace I'd ever seen in all the time I spent playing, and over "time" they stayed just as happy.

I've always kind of wondered if that would really work: an efficient and effective mass transit system, with no real roads. Could you hitch up your own train cars to make what would otherwise be semi-truck deliveries or moving vans etc? Speedy delivery around town that takes you within walking distance of your home? Off-road motorcycles for police officers and such who have to go somewhere directly in a hurry? If the city's transit budget was *entirely* spent on mass transit, could they make a really useful system that everyone could use?
posted by galadriel at 7:07 PM on June 14, 2011 [8 favorites]


The rail system solution for traffic congestion in large cities should be obvious to anybody who's played enough SimCity.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:08 PM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think galadriel's comment above helps prove my point. Thanks!
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:10 PM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Rail networks cost money. American cities and states don't have any money.

No, it's not a question of funding. It's a question of density. Chinese rail is instantly profitable because of huge population density. American cities are comparatively small, and sprawling — a consequence of everyone wanting his own quiet yard.

The other problem with rail in America is that Americans generally don't like public transit. It's not the same culture as France or Germany where everyone rides regardless of social class.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 7:17 PM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's not the same culture as France or Germany where everyone rides regardless of social class.

There's a story in Andy Warhol's POPism where a drunken Judy Garland, needing to be transported a few blocks, demands that a limousine be summoned. When someone suggests it would be quicker to hail a taxi, her representative is aghast: "Miss Garland has not been on public transportation in years!"
posted by Trurl at 7:21 PM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just as an aside, this website, "Car Free" (there's a book too!) is an interesting (though somewhat muddleheaded) attempt to design the 'perfect' modern urban space, sans automobiles. I sometimes think that China's leadership could be inspired by it.
posted by wilful at 7:24 PM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


bwg: "I wish Hong Kong's leaders would have the balls to restrict cars, but no, they're intent on building more roads instead of concentrating on developing the already awesome rail network.

It's not like we have endless space for more roads, and the air pollution from vehicles is bad enough as it is.
"

Is their Governor named Scott Walker?
posted by symbioid at 7:30 PM on June 14, 2011


Here is my plan to get China scale rail up and running in the U.S. it is simple.

1) No environmental impact plans. Bird sanctuary in the way? Fuck 'em, it is for the greater good.
2) Eminent domain, you think you own that land buddy? Well think again.
3) In jail? you work on the railroad, period.
4) Nationalize steel production. Don't worry steel producers, you can use the trains too when we are finished.

and finally

5) Think you need a car? Think again, here is a bike to get to the station.

Write your congressperson, if we all pull together and make some tough sacrifices we can do it!
posted by Ad hominem at 7:37 PM on June 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


The rail system solution for traffic congestion in large cities should be obvious to anybody who's played enough SimCity.

Congratulations! You have become an expert in designing...simulated cities. That works well in some places, not so much in others. Here in San Francisco we have a mix of buses, 2 light rail systems (why? I have no idea) and regular rail that only goes to local destinations - taking Amtrak requires me to get on a bus and then transfer to a train in the East Bay. The BART system is pretty amazing, apart from being rather dirty. The other light rail system in Muni, which is hideous. Living in the west of the city, I would much, much rather have more buses. The hodgepodge of different transit systems and the city's peculiar geography means that none of them work terribly well. The Municipal Transit Authority is not very responsive to the wishes of the traveling public.
posted by anigbrowl at 7:38 PM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ad hominem: "
1) No environmental impact plans. Bird sanctuary in the way? Fuck 'em, it is for the greater good.
"

That's a good question... Where is the line drawn between local vs global and the need to make environmental choices. So far - we seem to only draw a line between "capital" (and entrenched capital at that - dirty energies, say) and eco shit (renewables -- which could be capital, but again - entrenched gives the advantage)... Hmm maybe speaking of "entrenched" gives the image of warfare, and maybe we need to figure out how to fight these battles (psst ... i just had my first taste of brandy - not bad. but i'm buzzed, so sorr if I'm incoherent)

Anyways... Umm... Ok...

So, we have a battle between entrenched corporate interests, but also between competing environmental things. And also overall visions - your example of basically a "local" vs "global" issue. While I appreciate the "local" (NIMBY, think globally act locally, etc...) I can also understand that sometimes global needs override the local need. And in this case, perhaps reducing emissions is more important than, say, saving a particular ecosystem/species, etc... Of course if we can do both it would be ideal... but if the global is impacted, then does it matter? Then we're picking and choosing - local assessment of damage in in land USA vs coastal ecosystem of nunavatua (making shit up here, can't think of the actual name - buzzed - remember?)

So--- am I making sense?

So ok - we have 2 battle-fronts then. In this sense, what you may find is a sort of nativism in eco-hippie bullshit sense (the way that, say, Edward Abbey was against immigration... the fucker... based upon localized impact upon his precious desert ecosystem) whereas, maybe just maybe your nation state ecosystem, precious as it is, isn't necessarily as important as the drowning species in another land (including drowning humans)... How do we assign a value to ecosystem x vs ecosystem y???

Maybe ecosystem y, the less "exploited" should be preserved (that is, say ecosystem x in the US has been exploited to hell and back) but a remote desert island has a new ecosystem that can provide new medicinal cues through it's ecosystem that we haven't found yet... etc (yes, I hate to discuss this in a Capitalist "exploitation" framework, but I guess that was the original concept that 'set me off' so... I guess I'll go with it)... Umm.

OK... I guess I should shut up?

Later peepz.
posted by symbioid at 8:06 PM on June 14, 2011


blahblahblah: "The article itself is a bit weak, sort of a mix of a short news and opinion piece. It does mention that the galvanizing factor was a six hour traffic jam throughout the city, and that the push for subways is coming from the population, not the government.

Also, subway building is 96% cheaper in China than the US, thanks, in part, to loose safety restrictions and easy land seizures - $100 million per mile versus $2.4 billion per mile for New York.
"

So - in a sense you're arguing that a "deregulated" environment can lead to better environmental regulations? Again - hinting at my competing regulation theories (i.e. which environmental regulations do we choose) Hmm... Fuckin A... These two comments alone have given me much mental fodder. Thanks metafilter, for once again being an awesome source of thought :)
posted by symbioid at 8:08 PM on June 14, 2011


imagine what the US would be like if our political leaders in the USA were from MIT instead of Harvard.

It would be like China?

Here in San Francisco we have a mix of buses, 2 light rail systems (why? I have no idea) and regular rail that only goes to local destinations - taking Amtrak requires me to get on a bus and then transfer to a train in the East Bay. The BART system is pretty amazing, apart from being rather dirty. The other light rail system in Muni, which is hideous.

BART is heavy rail, not light rail.
posted by grouse at 8:35 PM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, federal subsidies to oil and gas industry: $4 billion / year

In the context of trillions of dollars of debt, trillions of dollars spent in Afghanistan and Iraq, this is not a big subsidy.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:36 PM on June 14, 2011


Symbioid, who is to say that the benefits of the cheap, poorly constructed make work subway line will result in the environmental benefits you want? Perhaps some kind of environmental impact statement should be undertaken before demoliting ancient neighborhoods and taking a peasant's crop land for a park and ride and another ghost suburb.
posted by humanfont at 8:38 PM on June 14, 2011


I was making the point that the US is not, and should not be China, sure there will be tradeoffs and we will impact local ecosystems, but China has shown complete disregard for the environment. So much so that according to wikipedia cancer caused by pollution is the leading cause of death in many parts of china, and according to the L.A Times 25% of smog in Los Angeles originates in China. According to the same wikipedia page China is heavily reliant on coal, and steel production takes 1/5 more energy than average.

Add to the facts mentioned in the article blahblahblah linked, that China isn't strong on safety regs or workers right, and simply seizes the land is needs, and we have a picture of what America was like when we first built our railroads, and tore up half of Manhttan to build subways.

We are past that point now. As pointed out upthread it costs $2.4 billion per mile to build subway lines in New York. That means with the $4 billion we give in subsidies to oil and gas concerns per year, we can get almost two miles per year.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:38 PM on June 14, 2011


Restricting car numbers? Those... those communists!
...
Gosh. Lucky.
...
For all the "exceptionalism" of the USA, it's interesting that only in Communist China is the government willing to make such sweeping and strategic decisions about the future of a major city.

By God, if only the American government were a totalitarian police state like China, things would work so much better. We could have our community gardens and recycling programs and bike paths and crunchy granola grocers on every corner and fuck what anyone else might want.
posted by indubitable at 8:49 PM on June 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


By God, if only the American government were a totalitarian police state like China, things would work so much better. We could have our community gardens and recycling programs and bike paths and crunchy granola grocers on every corner and fuck what anyone else might want.

This is why we must never allow Portland to militarize.
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:50 PM on June 14, 2011 [19 favorites]


Well, you can say what you want, but at least Hitler made the trains run on time. /Godwin
posted by KokuRyu at 8:57 PM on June 14, 2011


I've always kind of wondered if that would really work: an efficient and effective mass transit system, with no real roads. Could you hitch up your own train cars to make what would otherwise be semi-truck deliveries or moving vans etc?

Yes. And it's been done.
posted by schmod at 9:01 PM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is why we must never allow Portland to militarize.

As long as they weaponize their pot first, we'll be safe.
posted by zippy at 9:09 PM on June 14, 2011


No, it's not a question of funding. It's a question of density. Chinese rail is instantly profitable because of huge population density. American cities are comparatively small, and sprawling — a consequence of everyone wanting his own quiet yard.

China's rail system is not very profitable.

The other problem with rail in America is that Americans generally don't like public transit. It's not the same culture as France or Germany where everyone rides regardless of social class.


Or it could just be that we have really cheap gas.
posted by humanfont at 9:19 PM on June 14, 2011


Meanwhile, federal subsidies to oil and gas industry: $4 billion / year

In the context of trillions of dollars of debt, trillions of dollars spent in Afghanistan and Iraq, this is not a big subsidy.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:36 PM on 6/14
[+] [!]


Quite true, but in the context of Obama's recently trumpeted (one-time) $8 billion stimulus package for developing high-speed rail, $4 billion/year is big bucks.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:20 PM on June 14, 2011


Rail networks cost money. American cities and states don't have any money.

And roads just build themselves for free?

/We build what we value, no matter what the cost . . .
posted by flug at 9:45 PM on June 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


BART is heavy rail, not light rail.

Yes, sorry. I was thinking about how to differentiate it from Caltrans and Amtrak and started oversimplifying for the sake of economy. My underlying point is the same: talking about public transit is one thing, implementing it is often a hell of a lot more complicated than SimCity.
posted by anigbrowl at 10:03 PM on June 14, 2011


Tokyo has more than 9 rail lines...
posted by gen at 10:10 PM on June 14, 2011


No, it's not a question of funding. It's a question of density. Chinese rail is instantly profitable because of huge population density. American cities are comparatively small, and sprawling — a consequence of everyone wanting his own quiet yard.

China's rail system is not very profitable.


Hong Kong's metro system is profitable (farebox recovery ratio of 150% — second in the world.) I'm not sure about the other cities.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:13 PM on June 14, 2011


Hong Kong's metro system is profitable (farebox recovery ratio of 150% — second in the world.)

It seems to me that Hong Kong is likely to be an outlier, as it its both unsually geographically small, densly populated, and has an unusually high per capita wealth.

However, the quality of HK's public transport is such that many people see no need to own cars at all. Which is just as well, because there is no damn place to park them.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:25 PM on June 14, 2011


Hong Kong's metro system is most definitely an outlier, but that doesn't mean there can't be some good takeaways.

As for myself, when I first visited Hong Kong and found that there are people who commute via escalator(!) it was immediately clear that nothing less would satisfy me thereafter.
posted by Winnemac at 12:40 AM on June 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, you can say what you want, but at least Hitler made the trains run on time. /Godwin

That phrase is attributted to Mussolini, not Hitler. close enough though.

IMO, its a matter of time. Is alot of money invested for high spped rail really worth it when we can re-build own existing system...do people really need to get there faster by train?
posted by clavdivs at 12:47 AM on June 15, 2011


Is alot of money invested for high spped rail really worth it

Why make the effort to rebuild something already outdated? Just to upgrade it yet again as soon as it's built? That would be extremely expensive and completely illogical.
posted by romanb at 2:12 AM on June 15, 2011


To be clear I was referring to the general idea of rebuilding a previously existing system as it was, instead of upgrading to the latest technology.
posted by romanb at 2:15 AM on June 15, 2011


Meanwhile in Australia (a country with sparse geography and US-style infrastructure policies), they're once again making noises about building high-speed rail lines, particularly between Melbourne and Sydney (either the second- or fourth-busiest air route in the world, depending on whether one counts plane movements or passenger seats). An implementation report is due to be delivered (a concession by Labor to the Greens), and Italian and French firms have been sending lobbyists to jockey for positions building any such system (apparently Alstom, who built the TGV in France, have offered to help pay for it).

High speed rail could make sense in Australia; the distances are great, and getting the journey time (Melbourne-Sydney or Sydney-Brisbane) to an air-beating 3 hours could be difficult without the use of maglev or ground-effect technologies, though, given that Australia produces a lot of iron ore and has a fair amount of money to work with due to Chinese demand for said iron ore, funding such a system could be easier than elsewhere.

Having said that, I'm not confident that I or anyone else reading this will live to see such a system in operation.
posted by acb at 3:14 AM on June 15, 2011


One comment from a friend that really resonated with me was, imagine what the US would be like if our political leaders in the USA were from MIT instead of Harvard.

I used to think like that when i was younger, i've now seen firsthand how nerdy engineers run companies. No thanks.

Not that i think that lawyers are overall better for the job, but anyone willing to go into politics is someone you don't want doing politics anyway... :P

I'm an engineer, btw.
posted by palbo at 5:10 AM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


imagine what the US would be like if our political leaders in the USA were from MIT instead of Harvard.

Have you ever seen FDR Drive in NYC or 395 in DC? Now imagine that, except you give the traffic engineers free reign to tear down and break up any historic neighborhoods, green space, or other inefficient human uses of space they feel are in their way. Yeah, now you are getting the idea.

Also, not to completely Godwin this derail, but Mein Kampf has a lot of material about the inefficiencies of having inexpert, elected officials making engineering decisions and how only a centrally controlled technocracy can achieve the height of supremacy. I guess we all know where that went, but hey, the autobahns are pretty nice roads.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:48 AM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Have you ever seen FDR Drive in NYC or 395 in DC?

This is a good point. People, in their frustration and search for quicker solutions always presume that once a vacuum of power is created that an able body will fill it. This is folly to anyone who pays attention.

Another thing to consider here (the carfree site made me think of it) is the role of design in building infrastructure that not just maximizes along one aspect. Eg, you'd think that it makes sense that roads/tracks/bikelanes should be designed for the most efficient travel of users. However, there's something about the way the social life of a people develop around these pieces of infrastructure that is crucial and not at all part of the discussion.

I know, it's all about economy. Still, I think we're wearing out a thinner and thinner veneer of material success while we destroy without replenishing the stock of social, organizational and institutional resource.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 6:26 AM on June 15, 2011


Also, not to completely Godwin this derail, but Mein Kampf has a lot of material about the inefficiencies of having inexpert, elected officials making engineering decisions and how only a centrally controlled technocracy can achieve the height of supremacy. I guess we all know where that went, but hey, the autobahns are pretty nice roads.

Though you can't solely blame Hitler for that strain of early 20th-century thought. Varyingly totalitarian technocracy was seen as as a panacea by people of all stripes, from the dictatorships to the free world (Ford and Le Corbusier, for example). It took the horrors of WW2 and Stalinism to turn the tide against the tempting idea that maybe absolute dictatorship by very smart people would come up with the best solutions.
posted by acb at 6:27 AM on June 15, 2011


Guys, the Happy Motoring society *can* last forever, and you're stupid for thinking we might consider thinking about planning for the end of cheap oil. Remember, past performance DOES indicate future growth, and public transit is socialism. Keep buying, and whatever you do, don't think about trying to improve our cities-- only poors live in cities.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:07 AM on June 15, 2011


public transit is socialism

I know you're being sarcastic with this entire comment, but in America one of the most successful "socialist" projects EVER is our humongous road and highway system.

Which is supported wholeheartedly and defended tooth and nail against any type of alternative by the same types that are always yarping the loudest about the horrors of "socialism".

Figure that one out if you can . . .
posted by flug at 10:52 AM on June 15, 2011


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