Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Fri Mar 27th 2009 at 10:39am UTC

China’s Subway Boom

Fifteen Chinese cities are building subway lines according to the New York Times.

Money quote: “Nobody is building like they are,” said Shomik Mehndiratta, a World Bank specialist in urban transport. “The center of construction is really China.”

How many U.S. cities are doing the same? And, by the way, how much of the U.S. “stimulus” is going to subways?

9 Responses to “China’s Subway Boom”

  1. AB Says:

    Urban transit doesn’t seem to be on the radar…

    The 30-minute Obamamercial shown during the campaign showed lots of people driving around, but no buses, subways, LRTs or anything of the sort…

    And there is more money proposed for highways than rail or transit in the stimulus package last I checked.

    Same thing in Ontario.

  2. Ilya Bogorad Says:

    In North America, we seem to have grown accustomed to slow, convoluted progress due to a strange concept of making sure that absolutely everyone should be on board and satisfied.

    For the past 10 years Toronto has been talking about the new exciting waterfront. Announced today: two years of public consultations to the tune of $200-300 million.

    I am afraid I will not see it in my lifetime.

  3. Wendy Says:

    To play devil’s advocate to Ilya… on the other hand in China to make way for all this progress without public consultation, many of the historic “Hu Tong” neighbourhoods are being irradicated. Throughout the country in cities and rural areas, thousands or millions of people forcibly displaced to make room.

    China’s not just building subways, but tens of thousands of miles of roads, too. I believe Campanella said in The Concrete Dragon that China will have more miles of interstate-like highway than the US by 2030 (starting from virtually none in 1990).

  4. Buzzcut Says:

    China has more cities with 1M+ people than any other country on earth. Unlike the US, they have cities with the scale needed for subways. And their society is rapidly urbanizing. It makes total sense to build this infrastructure, and it helps them create internal growth instead of just being yet another mercantalist nation like Japan, Korea, etc. etc. etc.

    Richard’s second favorite city, Buffalo, actually has a subway. They built it in the early ’80s. How’d that work out for them? It goes nowhere, and nobody rides it.

    With the third generation Prius just about ready to hit the streets, with its 10% better mileage than the 2nd gen Prius, public transit in the US makes even less sense now than ever. Hybrids change the game, and automotive technology is advancing order of magnitudes faster than public transit. In terms of the energy needed to move a single person a single mile, under real world ridership, public transit can’t compete economically or environmentally with hybrids in every area of the country except Manhattan.

  5. tpk-nyc Says:

    It’s about money: $100 million a mile vs. $3 to 4 billion a mile. In New York we just spent $500 million to a refurbish and expand a STATION. The costs are stupendous. Small wonder the system is (lamentably) going bankrupt. Our system was built a hundred years ago with cheap labor (and before pesky OSHA laws, organized NIMBY lobbies, etc.). The Chinese are smart to do it now. They’ll never get the chance again. India should do the same.

  6. Michael Wells Says:

    One of the things that strikes me in third world counties is to look at the regular residential construction in progress and see how similar it is building in to the US in the 1950’s. So I look at Mexico or Peru and say, “they’re where America was 60 years ago.”

    The earliest subways in New York was built in the 1860’s and most of the major lines were there in the 1930’s. So China’s cities today are where the Big Apple was 70-some years ago. Of course they’ll catch up faster, there’s much more money and more modern construction techniques.

    The key figure isn’t cities over 1 million, which isn’t quite big enough to really need light rail. China has 20 cities with over 30 million people. That many people can’t physically function well traveling on the streets, certainly not using automobiles of any fuel efficiency. Try to find a parking place in Manhattan or to travel above a crawl at rush hour. And fewer than half of NYC households own cars, in Manhattan it’s less than 10% (according to Wikipedia).

    Think of the scene in Slumdog where the woman is in Mumbai traffic and gets out of her car to watch television in a store window. A few minutes later she goes back to her car and it’s still in place. I remember experiencing this in Boston some years ago. In rush hour the guy in front of me got out of his car and went into a shop for coffee or cigarettes. He came out a few minutes later, secure in the knowledge that nothing would have moved — and it hadn’t.

  7. Michael Wells Says:

    I meant…

    One of the things that strikes me in third world counties is to look at the regular residential construction in progress and see how similar it is to building in the US in the 1950’s. So I look at Mexico or Peru and say, “they’re where America was 60 years ago.”

  8. Vishal Sharma Says:

    I admire the Chinese. They really are building a Rome there!
    As far as subway system’s sustainability question in the article: cannot imagine why not. Cars and subway can survive together. People buy cars in Toronto suburbs, they still commute downtown toronto through subway. I’m sure there will be sufficient number of people in most Chinese cities to make the rail systems economical!
    To mention a similar move in India was the recent start of a metro-rail system in capital city, New Delhi.
    Urban transit seems to be a good indicator of regional economic strength.
    Only been to Ohio in the US (different cities) and the public transit there was almost non-existent.

  9. Jay Paleja Says:

    I would argue that the development of subways, transit and rail infrastructure represents not only an interesting stimulus opportunity, but can serve as an effective investment well into the future, similar to the Eisenhower Interstate System of the old economy.

    What is needed however is appropriate investments that speak to current and future demands while also implementing incentives to encourage its use. Road tolls, increased parking fees, land development policies that encourage intensification, etc, etc. are all necessities in urban transit development yet are often dealt with in isolation. What stops us in North America is not cost, but the very foundations of our city building processes that place hurdles on public transit development and use.