Sunday, April 10, 2011

Strong cores

The April 10 China Daily includes this report on the Beijing Metro.  Infrastructure planners everywhere dream of (i) accurately projecting urban expansion to the point of having the proper infrastructure in place when and where growth arrives; or (even better) (ii) putting advance infrastructure in place so that it guides urban expansion.  Both are seemingly on the minds of Beijing subway planners with an emphasis on the latter. "For most of its length, the new line runs through open fields and small towns -- and the construction sites that will transform the area into miles of densely populated suburbs."  

But the story also alludes to the fly in the ointment.  "A 2010 survey conducted by IBM rated Beijing's commute as the worst in the world, tied with Mexico City." And, "For many planners, tackling Beijing's will take more than building a better subway. ... the underlying problem was the concentration of government, universities, and companies in Beijing's relatively small historic core."

Tokyo, Moscow, Seoul, Beijing, Mexico City and New York boast great subways and awful road traffic.  The great subway "fix" falls short when the core is a dominant employment center.  With the exception of NYC, these places maintain big central government bureaucracies (and all of the activities that these attract) in their historic cores.  It's very difficult to build subways fast enough to impact the auto traffic that growth plus centralization account for.