I took the opportunity of a visit to China to view the traffic and transport provision. Arriving at Shanghai by air, I took the Maglev to the city – speed 300kph, journey time 8 minutes. From the map the terminal seemed fairly near my hotel so I took a taxi – a big mistake in the morning rush hour, needing to cross the river on one of the few bridges, tightly congested. A colleague on the same flight who travelled from the airport by metro beat me to it. But I did have a good view of the elevated road network designed to adapt a historic city centre to the car.
The Shanghai metro is extensive and efficient, with all signs and announcements in both Chinese and English. The city is being developed with high rise housing, typically 30 stories, so rail is essential. I would guess that the mode share for car is fairly low.
I went to Beijing by the high speed train at 300kph, from the new rail station situated next to Shanghai’s airport for internal flights – no attempt to bring this rail route to the city centre.
Beijing is extraordinary. Apart from the historic monuments, it seems that the whole city is being comprehensively redeveloped, with the traditional single story courtyard housing demolished, replaced by tall modern office buildings and apartments. The road network is extensive – wide avenues, 6 ring roads and 9 toll expressways. By attempting to cater for the car, the amount of traffic is excessive – over 5m cars registered – and serious congestion is the result, not just at peak times.
One feature of both cities is that the large majority of motorised two-wheelers are electric, thus silent and non-polluting. In Beijing this is the consequence of legislation to limit air pollution, in Shanghai due to the lower running cost of electric propulsion.
My impression, albeit from a brief visit, is that Shanghai has successfully coped with the car by not adapting too much, whereas Beijing, by attempting to accommodate more, has paradoxically a much more severe traffic problem.