Chinese cities and other rapidly urbanizing parts of the developing world face immense challenges as they attempt to balance and jointly pursue economic development and environmental sustainability objectives. Chinese cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Dalian are experiencing motorization rates of 20% to 25% annually.1 The sheer scale and rapidity of growth in the population of automobiles is daunting, challenging and at times overwhelming the institutional and administrative capacities of local and national agencies to build sufficient infrastructure and strategically plan for and manage travel demand.
Over the past decade, many Chinese cities have adopted a traditional western approach in responding to mounting problems of traffic congestion, airborne pollutants, rising accident rates, and other ills associated with automobile-oriented societies. This has been one of mainly technological and supply-side solutions, in the form of super-freeways and viaducts, expansive roadway capacity, intelligent transportation systems (ITS), and other technical exigencies that seek to accommodate pressures wrought by rapid motorization.
Might this be placing Chinese cities on the same trajectory followed by most American cities and increasing numbers of those in Europe, Canada, and Australasia: rising automobile dependency and the associated problems of galloping sprawl, fossil-fuel resource depletion, high rates of greenhouse gas emissions, and social exclusion by class and ethnicity?