» 1,900 miles of rapid transit planned for world’s most populated country by 2015.
Most of China’s growth is concentrated in its large urban centers, which will house fifty percent of the country’s population by 2020 and 75% by 2050. For these increasingly huge megacities, the central government has no choice but to develop adequate measures to transport the population. Following the American model of car dependence is simply not possible because of high densities and inadequate space. With its high-speed rail network, now the longest in the world, the Chinese are providing efficient intercity links into downtowns.
But it’s in urban rail networks that the country has made the biggest strides towards increasing mobility within cities. Shanghai’s huge Metro, the longest on earth, is just one among eleven currently operating in China. Dozens of other cities have rapid transit systems either under construction or in planning.
Now the central government has made a commitment to spend up to one trillion one hundred billion U.S. dollars by 2015 on such grade-separated urban public transportation corridors. This is part of a one trillion-dollar investment in urban infrastructure nationwide; China will also spend $450 billion on railway construction over the same period. By the end of this year, China will offer a total of 870 miles of metro systems, up from around 600 today, on the way to 1,900 miles in five years. Far more is planned by 2020, especially in the east coast powerhouses of Beijing, Shanghai, and the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong megaplex.
Urban infrastructure investment has consumed an average of 2.6% of China’s GDP since 1994. With a national growth rate predicted to hold at between seven and ten percent a year, the country will be able to guarantee its huge level of investment.
Total infrastructure investment across all levels of government accounts for roughly 1% of American GDP. The U.S. commits about $100 billion a year to all forms of transportation spending.
Whether China’s spending will be enough to prevent the rapid rise in car use there is unknown. Chinese’s per capita automobile ownership has increased from 24 cars per 1,000 people to 40 per 1,000, though that’s far less than the 765 cars per 1,000 people in the United States. The country’s decision to implement tolls on virtually all new highways and the use of vehicle restrictions in the central zones of cities like Shanghai and Beijing will spur more use of public transit.
China better be preparing for the future, though, when it will need to spend more rebuilding its infrastructure than constructing it anew. One hopes the Chinese have developed more stable long-term operations and maintenance funds than have those of us in North America.