Top 5 Challenges to Integrating Land Use and Transportation — in China or Wherever

Much like the weather, everyone talks about integrating land use and transportation planning but who actually does anything about it?

The PRC, for one. They are building cities like gangbusters and the prospect of better using land use as part of a comprehensive transportation strategy is no cute, random cocktail party note on a napkin. USC’s Gen Guiliano, among others, has argued that US cities are so built out at this point that land use strategies may well only have marginal impacts on travel outcomes, if any. On the other hand, I believe both Virginia Tech’s Chris Nelson and U. Maryland’s Reid Ewing are the most visible proponents of the counter argument that, over the coming decades, a significant amount of new green field and infill development will occur, certainly enough that land use will be a viable transportation policy tool over the long haul.

On the third hand, there is no ambiguity about how much the physical plant of China’s cities is expected to grow over the next few years, suggesting a far greater potential for effective land use strategies with transportation ends. Several hundred million people are moving from the countryside of this still rural country, and the middle class is growing by tens of millions per year. Satellite cities are springing up in mass quantities. Maryland’s Qing Shen made exactly this point 10 years ago about Shanghai* in particular.

Still, two key questions remain. When are land use strategies preferred, and how are they best designed/implemented? The first asks why use land when other policy levers may be better suited or, put another way, under what circumstances do the former dominate the latter? (A strength of the recent revision of the APA’s text, The Transportation/Land Use Connection, is its formal discussion that land use is only one potential transportation planning tool among many, and often not the best one.) The second question emphasizes the complexity of process and the critical importance of how the details matter.

In class last week, we revisited talks I gave in Beijing and Hangzhou this year on that very question, partly to summarize some of the major themes of the course (UP254, Land Use and Transportation). In China, I felt the talk was sort of rushed but in class there was more time to discuss several of the individual bullets, so I’m now elevating it to blog-worthy status. Short and more often than not pretty obvious, it is a worthwhile use of internet space even if it helps only a single megaurbanizing country. But from our discussion this week, many of the considerations listed (the presentation is mostly a list of considerations) may well apply to growing areas of the US as well.


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*p.s. Not so funny at the time story: En route to Hangzhou in October, I had a full day to visit Shanghai. My flights were all fine and while I’d caught a red-eye from LA at 2am and had been traveling 23 hours, I did get a few hours sleep on the flight to Beijing and then another half hour from Beijing, but I was starting to fade when I arrived in Shanghai at 9am on a Friday morning. Still, I’m game for at least a peek at the historic/new downtown.

Getting around was supposed to be a snap. There’s a $2 billion dollar maglev high speed train from the airport straight downtown, then clear signs in English for the subway when I’m ready to go to the new train station to take my train to my ultimate destination, Hangzhou, a couple of hours away.

First, it turns out I flew into the other, older Shanghai airport. Surprise! No train, old or new, anywhere.Then , I thought I’d go to the new train station by taxi to get a ticket to Hangzhou before anything else. It’s brand new and gigantic, so they will have a shower and a place to store my luggage so I can look around famous Shanghai 3-4 hours. I had our visiting Chinese planners at UCLA write down the name of the new train station and other sights in Chinese characters for the taxi.

It takes me an hour to get a taxi, then an hour in traffic to get here, to discover after getting out (in an underground garage) that it isn’t the new train station but, rather, the old one — although maybe it is, as Wikipedia now explains that the “old” station is known as the “new” station, whereas the brand new giant station dates back to 1908 in an earlier incarnation and is now simply known as the south station. Got that? (At least the fare was only about $7 for an hour trip.) And packed. It’s on a square, also packed. The lines are long at the ticket counters (~30 people each) and sign is a number or in chinese. I have no idea which line to stand in or what to do when I get to the counter.

At the airport I found an information desk but the woman did not speak enough english to tell me if she had an airport directory. Here at the train station, there is no obvious route map and the information desk guy knows only enough english to tell me the english speaking line is ticket line #1. He says that repeatedly, without variation. I decide instead to look around the square some more, outside where it’s less crowded, since I’m in no hurry and it is so interestingly untouristy. Only a couple of nonchinese among the thousands here.

Around the corner from the ticket office, maybe 100 yards away, I wander upon the “soft seat ticket office.” I had read there are only two classes of service, hard and soft seats. This has no one waiting so I decide I’ll splurge, especially if I can figure out what to do. The woman is nice and speaks enough english to sell me a 6pm ticket to Hangzhou. She also tells me there are lockers to leave luggage, and a separate “soft seat” waiting room. The ticket for the 75 mile trip is $6. I don’t know how much extra I’m paying over the hard seats but I’m pretty sure it’s worth it.

I can’t find the locker area. There is a subway station here so I’ll take my luggage downtown with me.

At the subway station, there are no route maps. (My pocket guide to Shanghai arrived from Amazon a day after I’d left home.) Instead, there are straight lines on the wall in different colors telling you the stops but I can’t figure where they are with respect to my map. There is no route map. There are 30 people in each line here too, I don’t know how to communicate with the person (there’s no “english” line) (and I’ve left out the many conversations with various staff who know no english at all), and I’m starting to get really tired. It’s 8pm thursday night my time and I’ve only napped since Wednesday morning. So I decide I’ll see Shanghai another time and go on to Hangzhou to rest and prepare for my meeting.

It’s 11:30am. I go back to the soft seat ticket office and ask if I can trade my ticket in for an earlier train. “From this station?” I wish she had been my taxi driver. I say yes because I don’t know how to get to the other station anyway. I could take a taxi! Besides, I have this station finally figured out, mostly. She says no problem, there’s a 3pm train and I get change back. 3 yuan which is a nickel I think. But I had already decided I would just buy another ticket if necessary to get to my hotel early, so I’m especially happy at my change of fortunes when I receive change instead of having to pay, as a rare bonus when my well laid plans are not proceeding so smoothly.

In a way this is more interesting than the typical tourist experience, because I am seeing the seedier and more human side of the richest city in China, which I probably won’t next time around. The people are nice enough and typically try to help; they just rarely understand me and vice versa. Here in the soft seat waiting room, which is a nonsmoking piano lounge, the boys at the “Melo Coffee” stand were really happy to get me a coffee.

I have a two hour wait before boarding. I still need to find the train and my seat. The ticket has chinese characters and some numbers but I somehow got to my proper seat in the proper car without problems.

pps. So I got to Hangzhou and there were no taxis. The policeman there did not understand the word “taxi.” (I do have a Mandarin instructional cd in my car but find that I cannot actually drive and listen to it at the same time. Besides, my language skills are impressively poor. Note to future self: The word for taxi is ch?z?qìch? or ????.) I finally found a pirate taxi who wanted twice what I’d paid for the train just to take me to my nearby hotel. Tired enough to be annoyed at my exploitation, I bargained him down to 2/3 that (we used the Arabic numbers on the license plates in the parking lot to communicate amounts) and, unexpectedly for me, it turned out to take another hour through this big city’s peak traffic, 5 times further than I’d guessed, so I voluntarily gave him what he initially wanted in the end, partly because I wasn’t sure he would survive his ride back. (And he’d happily showed off his extensive U.S. pop cd collection during the scariest taxi drive I’d had in awhile.)

ppps. The hotel was truly fabulous.

Saturday, December 1st, 2007
randall Crane