February 09, 2017

How Transit-oriented Development Can Transform China


xyzAsia Pacific Rail, the largest gathering of senior rail leaders in Asia focused on sustainable railway development in the Asian Pacific region, spoke with ITDP China’s Deputy Country Director, Xianyuan Zhu, about transit-oriented development in China. 

The growth of cities around the world has been characterized by unsustainable, car-dependent and transit-poor urban sprawl. To remedy this, transit-oriented development is a fast growing trend and approach that fosters a compact, walkable, mixed-use community centered around a transit station or within transit corridors. One such organization that champions for transit-oriented development is the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP).

What does ITDP do?

ITDP is a global non-profit that provides technical expertise to accelerate the growth of sustainable transport and urban development around the world. ITDP China works with city governments and agencies to provide technical support for the planning, design, and implementation of sustainable urban transportation and development demonstration projects and policies.

We focus on 5 areas: bus rapid transit (BRT), complete streets & greenways, transit oriented development (TOD), parking & TDM, new mobility and capacity building. ITDP played a lead role in planning, designing and implementing the award-winning Guangzhou BRT.

What is the potential of transit-oriented development in China?

By 2030, China will have more than 200 cities with more than 1 million people. How these cities are planned and built will have major implications for the globe, as well as for their local environments. Cities that are growing may have their future largely decided by the next decade or two.

Because decisions about urban development have long range consequences — close to irreversible when it comes to the decision to expand over rural or natural land versus growing vertically, or to lay out a particular pattern of streets and subdivide large properties into plots of particular sizes and shapes– failing to shift towards TOD performance objectives in short order could result in hundreds of millions of additional urban dwellers locked into unsustainable and inequitable auto-dependent urban sprawl.

Awareness of this situation is rising rapidly at high levels of international and national policy, hence an historic opportunity is opening. For example, in the 13th Five-Year Plan for City Public Transport Outline issued by China Ministry of Transport in July 2016, key issues highlighted included TOD implementation improvements, encouraging shared mobility and implementing congestion pricing as a way of city traffic management.

What are the challenges of implementing transit-oriented development in China?

In most of the world, cars and motorcycles remain symbols of achievement, freedom, and status, as much as instruments to rational purposes. Visions of a possible bright future of reduced ownership and use of private individual vehicles are not yet widespread. Many national governments incentivize motor vehicles purchases as a way to boost economic growth. Powerful industries promote the car-centric lifestyle through marketing, advertising, and other ways of shaping cultural and technical values. People who invest large sums in vehicles and structure their way of life around them become dependent and an entrenched opposition to change.

Policies, regulations and development approval process
The car-centric vision of development has become embedded in public policies and regulations over the years that make TOD not just difficult, but illegal (e.g. single-use zoning; low density, land coverage and units per plot limits; parking supply, building setbacks, and plot size minima). All levels and scales of policy and regulation are concerned, from local/municipal (e.g. land use zoning, low-intensity development, parking regulations and other elements of building codes) to regional (e.g. regional urban development and transport plans) and national (e.g. road design standards, funding streams, tax incentives, fuel subsidies, and social housing policies).

Governmental and quasi-governmental institutions of city planning, public works, transportation, housing, and social work are weak and operate in isolated silos. Planning and decision-making are not aligned and fail to make happen compact and well integrated urban development. As large urban areas have spilled over municipal boundaries, jurisdictional fragmentation compounds with social and political differences, hampering the planning and management of an efficient common transport and land-use system.

Investment and Financing
Complete TOD often entails high up-front costs for services and amenities with long-term social and environmental benefits but requiring advanced planning and implementation processes: new or improved transit service, quality district infrastructure of streets and paths, utilities, and local services requiring incentives or subsidies. Furthermore, low and moderate income housing units at price below market amount to forgone revenues that may require substitutions to balance the budget of TOD construction projects.

Xianyuan Zhu will be speaking more about TOD best practices and ITDP China assisted BRT projects at Asia Pacific Rail 2017.  For more information about the conference and tickets, visit here.

About Asia Pacific Rail
Now in its 19th edition, Asia Pacific Rail is the largest gathering of senior rail leaders in Asia. With a 4 track premium conference agenda covering key issues across metro, mainline, freight, rolling stock, power, signalling & communications, finance & funding and more, 3 technical seminar theatres in the exhibition hall, over 80 exhibition stands and an Underground/Overground University, our 2017 edition will be our biggest ever. This article was previously posted by Asia Pacific Rail. It can be found here.


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