Monday, September 09, 2013

Chinese Infrastructure

In China, I can walk down to the train station and take the $30 train from Nanjing to Shanghai. It cruises around at a measly 180 miles per hour and takes a "lengthy" 67 minutes to travel the approximately 200 miles. Compare this to the much more expensive and slower Acela trains on the east coast. The California high speed rail has cost billions of dollars, yet doesn't even aspire to these speeds. And in Shanghai, this high speed line isn't even the fastest. The Maglev that goes to Shanghai's Pudong airport travels around 300 miles per hour.

I wonder if China is taking the place of the US from a century or two ago. Back then, the United States was the scrappy little country that just got stuff done. Want a railroad across the country? We'll get it done. Factories that can outproduce Europe? Check. Sure there is some corruption and questionable business practices, but things got done. Today, however, the United States is stuck in a bureaucratic quagmire. Things are planned and planned and planned.

I can see things happen in the local case of the Steven's Creek Trail. Mountain View has built a trail along the Creek. Cupertino has built another portion. There is a two mile gap between the two. However, for a good chunk of that gap, there are houses along the creek. There is also a freeway that needs to be crossed. The simple solution would be to simply sign a route down the street and build a bridge over the freeway. This would connect the trails, and provide a nice ride down quiet residential streets next to the creek. However, the city of Sunnyvale instead is spending oodles of dollars on community outreach. The people on the logical streets yell the loudest. (It doesn't matter that their yelling is nonsensical.) So after many meetings, the current plan is to add in a couple mile detour down streets far from the trail, require a double crossing of another freeway, and potentially add a two-way bike path down a road adjacent to a freeway. And who would use this new trail? Obviously not anyone walking down the trail. Commuters would also be out since it poses a significant detour. Families on a leisurely bike ride are probably also out due to the sketchy freeway crossings. I guess a few people in the local neighborhoods could use it for local bike traffic. But, they are generally fine using the low-traffic roads already.

China on the other hand would just say "we need a bike path" and build it.

The Chinese way also has development in clusters - which happen to be the clusters where mass transit is focussed. A city like Nanjing has millions of people. Despite this amount, it is very walkable without being hugely overcrowded. There is also a huge amount of green space. China apparently has learned something from US-style suburban sprawl. Yes there are issues in China. Cars are becoming popular (but the crowded streets can be easier on pedestrians). Sidewalks can be blocked by construction (but there are enough pedestrians walking on the street to keep it from being a safety hazard). And there is the nasty issue of factory pollution. These are big issues, but they are fixable. China is rapidly building metro lines that are being used - often because stops are near the high density developments. Even with all this crazy development, it is still easy to walk around. The communistic capitalism does seem to be working - for now.

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