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Collaboration and Learning: The Means to Sustainable Transportation in China


Sustainable transportation measures have been widely promoted in China since the late 1990s; several different organizations (Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), World Bank, Asian Development Bank) have provided training and exposure to Chinese planners and leaders on these practices. Yet few cities have incorporated them fully into their transportation systems. This dissertation investigates the reasons for the uneven implementation of sustainable transportation measures in China.

Many sustainable transportation polices require inter-agency collaboration, working across vertical boundaries, for these planning interventions to take hold. For example, a popular transportation intervention has been bus rapid transit, imported from the South American cities of Curitiba, Brazil and Bogota, Colombia. These express bus systems can handle subway-level transit demand but are far less expensive than subways and can be delivered much faster. However, BRT implementation also requires coordinated action across multiple agencies - urban planners, bus operators, street engineers, traffic operations managers, and traffic enforcement officers.

Using a qualitative research approach based on field observations, interviews, and analysis of government records and reports, I investigate how two Chinese cities -Jinan and Kunming--incorporated sustainable transportation policies into their transportation systems. The impacts have been substantially different. Public transit accounts for 25% of daily trips in Kunming (38% central city area), and only 16% in Jinan, despite Kunming having twice the passenger vehicle population as Jinan's. This research shows that these differences are related to how these cities learned about sustainable transportation practices and implemented them.

The research uncovered significant differences in the intellectual and practical framing of the issues between the two cities. Kunming planners frame public transit as the backbone of their transportation system and urban development. This unique and unusual perspective came out of a decades-long sister-city partnership with Zurich, Switzerland that took into account both theory of good urban form and practical examples of how to produce a sustainable transportation system by combining transportation and land use planning. The Kunming planners have consistently pursued sustainable transportation measures in their planning and as a result of the partnership transportation planning has greater legitimacy. In contrast, while Jinan transit officials embraced sustainable transportation measures such as BRT and transit-oriented development (TOD), these measures were never fully integrated within their urban planning system. They were conceived of as projects. For BRT, the focus was placed on physical planning of the corridors and stations but little attention was paid to organizational requirements for implementation. One result of these different approaches has been that Kunming planners have a range of sustainable strategies, the ability to adjust these strategies to changing conditions and contexts, incorporate new knowledge, and support their strategic direction based on empirical evidence and experience, whereas Jinan has struggled to maintain and extend their BRT system and has only been able to make incremental changes.

This research draws upon theories of policy transfer and challenges claims that municipal leadership is the key to successful implementation of innovations. From my research, leadership support is only one ingredient; capacity building among staff, inter-agency collaboration, a combination of theoretical and practical examples, and empirical evidence of success are equally important to substantive and continuing learning and innovation.

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