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Published:October 23rd, 2010 10:26 EST
Traffic Solutions as an Instrument for Improving the Quality of Life in Urban China?

Traffic Solutions as an Instrument for Improving the Quality of Life in Urban China?

By SOP newswire2

Office for Sustainability Southern New Hampshire University

In the United States, the usual response to intractable traffic problems has been to build more roads and associated infrastructure to make it easier for cars to enter and leave the center city in rush hour. This approach has served first, to increase rush hour traffic, as more drivers attempt to commute. Second, increase the numbers of cars attempting to navigate the streets at all hours. Third, increase pollution, traffic noise, and make the city less, and not more pleasant, for pedestrians, bicyclists, shoppers, and workers. Fourth, encourage suburbanization and long distance commuting, separating workers further from their jobs in the polluted cities, and from their families remaining at home in the suburbans.

The so-called "Big Dig" in Boston, Massachusetts is a classic American example. Many billions were spent on excavating an extensive tunnel network to facilitate peak hour traffic flow and not on improving mass transit to move people into or around the City in comfort and ease.

Rush hour traffic is still a slow frenzied crawl in all directions for the legions of single passenger gasoline cars, It is now very easy to drive into Boston outside of rush hours, harder to find parking and move around in cars or on foot in an old city, like most of China`s, that was not built for huge numbers of personal automobiles.

Traffic Solutions as an Instrument for Improving the Quality of Life in Urban China?

The question of cars and traffic must be approached as part of the pursuit of sustainability, of an ecological civilization. The means the movement, in stages, to a sustainable world where economic growth and investment means ecological improvement, not ecological destruction. This means the pursuit in all aspects of zero-waste, zero pollution world where the wastes from one process become, instead of pollution, an input to another process, in accord with principles of industrial ecology. Traffic cannot be approached as an end in itself, but as part of the solution to broader social and ecological challenges.

China, viewing increasingly severe automobile traffic problems including congestion and pollution, that threaten not just public health and the quality of urban life, but represent an impediment to economic growth, serving as choke points, instead of a useful arteries.

Suggested Steps on a Sustainable Road

China has the opportunity to decide not to follow the U.S. road building, and increasing traffic and increasing commuting model, but to develop particular Chinese ecological solutions. I believe such a solution can be informed by a number of elements adapted to Chinese realities and preferences.

First, the long-term plan should be to eliminate all gas driven cars from the City. Eventually only all electric or hybrid electrics would be permitted anywhere in China . Gasoline or other liquid fuel cars will be replaced by a combination of electric vehicles (EVs) and by major investment in an improved electric mass transit infrastructure that can move people comfortably, swiftly, and reliably.

Second, the batteries of plug-in electric vehicles, will serve as an important storage resource for the electric grid. Using smart computer control, available power could be fed from parked EVs to respond to increases in grid demand, thus flattening the electric load curve and reducing peak demand. In the U.S.,spot electric prices, which rise and fall with electric demand, can be used as a good proxy for the load state of the electric grid. High prices means high load.Low Prices mean low load. Part of the new infrastructure development is to build fast charging stations for appropriate types of electric vehicles permitted in each zone. And the grid to which these vehicles are plug-in to must be increasing powered by sustainable renewable resources. (For a discussion of the efficient renewable grid see Roy Morrison and Anthony Caplan`s (

Third, the city center is not the place for large high speed electric versions of conventional cars. Large electric passenger vehicles should, over time, also be banned from the city. Small electric city vehicles, limited in number, could be made available to be rented on an hourly or daily basis through a card swipe system. For individuals, the use of Segway type individual people transport could be made available on a similar hourly or daily rental basis. Areas of the city, should be made pedestrian only zones, like Herald Square and Times Square in New York City, supported by improved mass transit and nearby limited electric vehicle access. . Highway cars, gas or electric, will park outside the city at mas transit points. The city is the province of small electric city vehicles and mass transit.

A smart strategy for making streets bicycle safe, now popular in Europe is to move the so-called bike lane from being directly adjacent to cars, and thus always in danger, to being placed between parked cars and the side walk . This seems particularly wise for a City like Beijing as part of the planning and implementation for all electric vehicle roadways.

Fourth, transport should be integrated into the City on the basis of protecting neighborhoods and pedestrians. from high speed traffic, the noise, danger, and pollution (if any).Land reclaimed from roads and parking can become green space, gardens, parks, play areas. A good way to do this is the concept of the super-block amalgamating four or more conventional block sizes. Super blocks are connected to other super-blocks through pedestrian bridges or tunnels over tor under he roadways, if any, that surround the super-block. Limited access by vehicles to the super-block can be made available through /cul de sacs/ with entrances into the roads surrounding the super-block. A good example of a suburban community in the U.S. using the super-block, maximum green space and limited traffic plan is Radburn New Jersey built in first half of the 20th century.

All these areas, including electric vehicles and their infrastructure, improved public transport, new city designs, renewable energy grids, are opportunities for making economic growth mean ecological improvement, and for improving quality of life for urban dwellers and the economic efficiency and competitiveness of Chinese cities.

By Roy Morrison, Director