On the Move: Transport Concepts for Low Carbon Cities in China

November 10th, 2011

On the Move: Transport Concepts for Low Carbon Cities in China was the fifth in the China Low Carbon Leadership Network 2011 event series jointly organised by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the China Carbon Forum (CCF).

The November 10 meeting opened with an introduction to the spirit of cooperation between Germany and China, to balance natural environment and mobility needs of society, energy demand and threat of pollution, and economy and ecology at large.

The challenge of the evening was clear: quality of life is linked to mobility: mobility is increasing the quality of life in China for some, but as personal mobility under the present development model spreads, it is reaching a limit of sustainability and benefit to society at large. It was noted that in 2002, 50% of trips cost nothing other than fuel to the driver. In 2009, 70% cost nothing. This encourages driving even when it is not necessary.

Many policies can be used to deter people from driving their personal vehicles. The discussion started with a review of Beijing’s license plate lottery system, and that through the implementation of the policy, traffic congestion has been relieved, duration of trips reduced, average network speed increased – and significantly, millions of person-hours saved. However, public transit is still lacking. Buses need greater priority.

In addition to what has already been done in Beijing, there are many opportunities for changing the mode of development in China to make cities more bicycle and pedestrian friendly, and to discourage people from driving. Such strategies include avoiding the Beijing “superblock” model of development; reducing offsets of buildings from roads, and reducing the width of roads themselves to shorten walking times; enforce parking rules and introduce congestion charges; and, increased mixed-use planning of cities so that travel is not necessary in order to meet most needs of residents, and overall improve the integration of sustainable development into urban development planning.

Many challenges exist to improve urban sustainable transportation. Planning firms and city planning departments lack the technical skills to implement sustainable urban planning; at the same time, land use planning code in China is obsolete, yet still governs the way planners can make decisions; city leadership, while making statements in support of sustainable urban development still want to see grand designs with wide boulevards; parking and driving practices in general are still very difficult to enforce in China, where auto use is still relatively new; finally, driving in China is inordinately cheap.

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