The Urban Transport Crisis in Emerging Economies

Part of the series The Urban Book Series pp 33-58



  • Yuan GaoAffiliated withCurtin University Sustainability Policy (CUSP) Institute, Curtin University Email author 
  • , Jeffrey KenworthyAffiliated withCurtin University Sustainability Policy (CUSP) Institute, Curtin University

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The automobile has been a major shaping force in cities throughout the 20th Century. Since about the 1980s this has also been true of China and in particular its cities. Carefully assembled comparative data on Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou provide a window into this process in China. The data show some major trends towards the automobile, and more lately a move away from it. The chapter also demonstrates how the nationally directed Chinese automobile industry provides a critical backdrop for why Chinese cities have become more oriented to the automobile. It shows how and why this motorization trend has had to be modified in recent years in favour of transit, walking, cycling and electrically powered ‘lightly motorized’ modes. The chapter concludes that Chinese cities, though undergoing major change towards the car (and motorcycle), have reached certain physical limits very rapidly, whereby further motorization will be unsustainable and counter-productive economically and in many other ways. As such, it is argued that Chinese cities are more likely to reverse their motorization trend through a major revival of high quality transit, especially rail, and a rediscovery of their hitherto dominant non-motorized modes, rather than moving further towards the car. Important policy insights are drawn from the comparisons of the three cities.