A POSSIBLE CURE: A bus travels on Guangzhou's bus rapid transit (BRT) lane. The city won the 2011 Sustainable Transport Award granted for its BRT system that integrates with bike lanes, bike share and metro stations (CHEN MENGXING)
Guangzhou also plans to further reform the use of official cars, which have long been blamed for contributing to traffic jams. (see page 22)
However, Guangdong will not copy Beijing's practice of limiting vehicle registrations, because allowing more residents to own private cars was part of the provincial government's campaign to build a "happy Guangdong," said Guangdong Governor Huang Huahua.
Many traffic management experts believe current measures could only alleviate jams in various cities while the fundamental solution lies in the optimization of the urban planning.
Chen Yanyan, a professor at the Transportation Research Center of Beijing University of Technology, told Legal Weekly the essential cause of traffic jams in most Chinese cities is the supply-demand imbalance in traffic facilities. She quotes a theory of U.S. urbanist Anthony Downs, widely known as the Downs' Law, to explain the cause of congestion: Travel demand on major roads rises to meet capacity.
According to the rule, if new lanes are added, congestion problems might be lessened in the short term, but the promise of reduced congestion will attract drivers who previously used other routes, traveled at different times of the day, drove less or used other forms of transportation, which boils down to the fact that capacity will rarely relieve congestion in the long run.
Chen said Beijing's failure just proved Downs' Law correct. Though Beijing has invested hugely in building roads over the last few years, the expanded road network failed to address the worsening traffic jams.
Chen's center started to cooperate with the BMCT to study Beijing's traffic demand as early as 2005. She believes the solution to the city's traffic problems lies in the control of its demand.
"Reducing residents' traffic demand cannot be solved through increasing parking fees or levying congestion fees, but requires a reform in overall urban planning," Chen said. "Beijing's traffic problems, especially the tidal floods of daily commuters, are mainly caused by urban sprawl. Urban planning also falls into the scope of the broader traffic demand management. Moreover, policies, regulations and the optimization of the road network and public transit system must be used together to manage traffic demand."
Zhao Jie, a scholar from the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design, said it was still not too late for Beijing to pay attention to its urban planning.
"Beijing is bound to grow bigger as it is at the middle period of its urbanization and Beijing's population will keep increasing for the next two decades," Zhao said.
Beijing has activated plans to develop three of its suburban areas into satellite cities, including Tongzhou in the east, Shunyi in the north and Yizhuang in the south. All three areas have been linked to downtown areas by subways.
Zhao said a great barrier to the implementation of Beijing's new congestion-tackling measures would be whether different government departments would give their full cooperation.
"The measures include a wide range of policies from urban planning to public transport upgrades, which, I am afraid, will exceed the jurisdiction of the BMCT and requires a cross-department coordination mechanism to ensure its implementation," Zhao said.
Many people have attributed the failure of previous traffic improvement efforts in Chinese cities to the ill enforcement caused by the lack of cooperation between different government departments.
For example, one day after the BMCT publicized its draft plan to curb traffic jams for public feedback, the government of the Beijing's downtown Xicheng District unveiled a plan to expand the Financial Street, a bustling city-center business zone, to areas between the South Second Ring Road and South Third Ring Road. Such a blueprint is clearly contradictory to the BMCT's plan, which says Beijing will "strictly limit new construction in its inner city areas."
A report in the January issue of Caijing magazine said the lack of coordination between different government departments in tackling traffic problems was also reflected by their refusal to share data with each other.
The report said all government departments whose work is traffic-related considered their data to be secret. Allegedly, none of the research organizations with projects on Beijing's traffic have access to the comprehensive traffic data.
Chen said when Beijing built its Subway Line 13, a comfortable walking distance of transit between the new line and existing Line 2 could have been achieved if Beijing's traffic authorities had reached an agreement with the railway authorities on using a land owned by the latter. But negotiations between the two departments under different supervising authorities failed eventually, which resulted in an inconveniently long walk for passengers in transit that takes at least 15 minutes.
Professor Shi Qixin, former Director of the Institute of Transportation Engineering of Tsinghua University, suggests traffic authorities adopt more technological innovations, such as smart traffic management system, to reduce jams, which also requires cooperation of different departments.