Chan Shao Zhang, a 67 year old engineer, is currently supervising an army of workers operating 60 tunneling machines below the metropolis of Guangzhou in Southeastern China. Their goal is to not only build one of the largest and advanced subway systems but to also curb the Country's growing love for the automobile.
The tunneling system is taking hold not only in Guangzhou but all over the country as the Chinese government is pushing local and provincial officials to step up their infrastructure spending to offset lost revenue from slumping exports. Hence, at least 15 other cities are building subway lines with many more planning them in the near future. This is a very encouraging change as in the past, most cities have been discouraged from such alternate transportation planning due to high costs of subway tunneling. For example, only the city of Tokyo currently has a subway system that serves more passengers than city buses. The buses are cheaper and able to serve far more streets but move more slowly, pollute more and contribute to traffic congestion.
The concern now though is that the Chinese populace are purchasing cars faster than the government can build subway systems and car sales have soared ninefold since the year 2000. In the month of February, China surpassed the United States in total vehicle sales for the first time ever. This, combined with the fact that some Chinese policies allow real estate developers to build sprawling new Los Angeles style suburbs, undermine the benefits of the mass transit boom. Shanghai charges a fee of several thousand dollars for each license plate of a newly purchased car to try to discouraging car use and promote more alternative transportation but this has not taken hold in much of the Country.
Despite all this, China is continuing on with the plans of connecting all cities via these subway tunnels that are seen to be a way to jump start the economy again. The city of Guangzhou alone plans to open an additional 83 miles by the end of next year along with an underground tram system and a high-speed commuter rail system. A long-term plan calls for at least 500 miles of subway and light rail routes, and there are discussions on expanding beyond that.
I think this is a very forward thinking plan regardless of the new love for cars in the country. If done right, the subway systems will always be a very convenient way to commute to avoid traffic and parking issues. That is if it is done right and not a pretense of an alternate transport system like what exists in San Diego or Los Angeles. I think New York should watch and see how its done as the long delayed Second Avenue line which is to stretch a mere 1.7 miles still has not been completed.
Image obtained from: www.NewYorkTimes.com
Some article info obtained from: Kieth Bradshaer's "Clash of Subway and Car Culture in Chinese Cultures."