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Postcard from a Guangzhou Traffic Jam

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  • Eric Britton
    Source: http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/15/postcard-from-a-guangzhou-traff ic-jam/ Postcard from a Guangzhou Traffic Jam By ANDREW C. REVKIN
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 15, 2010
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      Source: http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/15/postcard-from-a-guangzhou-traffic-jam/

       

       

      Postcard from a Guangzhou Traffic Jam

      By ANDREW C. REVKIN

      Charles KomanoffCharles Komanoff at a bike rental shop in Guangzhao, China.

       Charles Komanoff is an environment, energy,  transportation and traffic specialist, who for decades has focused on New York City. But last week he was in China, helping the country explore approaches — like congestion pricing — to prevent   vehicle overload in city centers. Mr. Komanoff helped shape and promote a pricing strategy in New York, where Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg sought to  start charging drivers for access to Manhattan’s busiest blocks. The effort failed when it was opposed by state officials beholden to car-owning commuters. Below, you can read a “ Dot Earth postcard” from Mr. Komanoff, describing his experience there (he shot the photo in a traffic jam):

      I’m in  Guangzhou, China’s third largest city, for an “International Symposium on Analysis and Countermeasures of Traffic Congestion in Urban Centers.” Although the talks run the transportation gamut from infrastructure to travel-demand management, the purpose of the meeting is to explore congestion pricing as a possible antidote to traffic that is snarling China’s booming cities.

      Guangzhou’s new  Bus Rapid Transit system is barely a month old, yet its high-speed service, with pre-paid boarding and exclusive lanes, is already attracting 800,000 passengers a day — half as many people as ride New York City transit buses. Five subway lines have been built since 1999, and four more are slated to open in the next several years. I toured these facilities this week and also saw real-time traffic information systems that dispatch buses and taxis and help police clear traffic crashes.

      Yet this dizzying growth in smart transit infrastructure is unlikely to stem the deterioration in Guangzhou’s traffic conditions. The share of streets rated with severe congestion was measured at 38 percent last year, up from 33 percent in 2008 and 28 percent in 2007. Drivers, truckers and riders on conventional buses are paying a steep price in lost time.

      With double-digit rises in car ownership and the city’s relentless expansion outpacing even the rapid provision of transit, the idea of charging a toll to drive into Guangzhou’s city center is gaining traction. The  rationale is clear: drivers who pay only for their own lost time but not for the time their trips take from other drivers have little incentive to prioritize trips by car.

      Singapore, London and Stockholm have been using congestion pricing for 35, 7 and 3 years, respectively, and the meeting featured detailed reports on how these cities overcame the political hurdles and improved traffic dramatically through tolling. Nevertheless, a congestion pricing plan proposed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg died in the state legislature in 2008. In  my talk, I drew these lessons for Guangzhou from New York’s failure:

      • To succeed politically, congestion pricing must produce dramatic increases in travel speeds — at least 15 percent — in the charging zone. (The Bloomberg plan promised only a 7 percent gain.)

      • The toll must align benefits with costs. In New York, a hefty  taxi surcharge — on the entire fare, not just the “drop” — would ensure that residents of Manhattan, who use taxis rather than private cars, paid their fare share.

      • Transit improvements financed by the toll revenues must be instituted ahead of time, and fare reductions guaranteed.

      The stance of the domestic transportation experts here has been one of cautious interest: appreciation of congestion pricing as a virtually fail-safe tool, tempered by awareness that politics leaves little room for error in designing the toll, choosing the tolling technology, and marketing the program.

      The authorities opened this symposium — the first intensive discussion of congestion pricing in China — to the public to communicate the rationale and benefits of congestion pricing. Traffic gridlock now afflicts every major Chinese city, which is one of the reasons that the eleven invited speakers have been tailed by the media as if we were rock stars.

      Everything in China except traffic seems to move at warp speed. Unless New Yorkers can soon coalesce behind an improved congestion pricing plan, we may find ourselves being tutored in traffic relief by experts from China.

      You can find more from Mr. Komanoff on this approach to traffic management in the  Kheel-Komanoff Plan (created with  Ted Kheel).

       

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