26 September 2006

China Likes Their Cars (China: 2 of 5)

The biggest scary thing I learned on my trip to China is: China is car-oriented.

I had been to Japan and Hong Kong before I went to China, and so my impressions of Asia was necessarily colored. I figured China would be pretty mass-transit-oriented. It's so not true.

Shanghai and Wuxi, the towns in China were I spent my time, are very much developing along the lines of sprawling factory towns like Chicago. The fertile plain that once surrounded Shanghai is now fertile with the crop of export-oriented factories, each on their own multi-hectare plot of land complete with parking lot and truck dock. There are shiny new multi-lane separated roads running through these industrial parks speeding the always-weaving fleet of taxis, trucks, buses, and private cars on their way.

To be fair, China still uses a lot more alternate forms of transport than the car: a lot of people take company shuttle buses, bicycles, or scooters to work. That's what accounts for the fact that only about 10% of Chinese own a car. But the other 90% of Chinese want a car, and given the rate of development of the economy they're going to get one before too long.

China already has a lot of car-oriented infrastructure: besides all the boulevards, the major cities such as Shanghai are plumbed with freeways, bridges and tunnels. But as China sees the factor-of-five explosion in cars they'll get over the next decade, and as even more of the rural population comes to the cities to work in those shiny new factories, the traffic levels and pollution levels of today will seem like faint memories.

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