Arriving late at night at a five-star hotel, my first impressions were the number of smiling hotel staff that looked after the guests : from pushing the elevator buttons to cleaning the buttons after each use. It seemed that there was more staff than guests. Staff were very polite, smiling, and provided excellent service.
Watching Traffic Ballet: 10-Lane Road Bisecting 6-Lane Road
However, from a transportation viewpoint, the melodic sounds of car and truck horns playing out an unorchestrated concert at seven in the morning , was the first introduction to the city’s streetscape in front of the hotel. The room looked down onto a 10-lane road intersecting a six-lane road. The ten-lane road was divided with two lanes on each side, separating the inner six lanes with small medians of trees. The traffic seemed to be equally divided with just slightly more cars and trucks than bicycles. Some of the bicycles seemed more like a motorcycle – two and three wheel variety, outfitted to carry goods and work material.
Bus Drivers, Motorcyclists and Cyclists Dance to Avoid One Another
At the intersection, cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians did a ballet to the sound of the horn-orchestra to make their way through the intersection. Dancing, pivoting, swerving, weaving, and coming to a quick stop, were the ballet steps. In some strange way, it was all harmonious. A few days later, I was taken to the airport through the intersection, in daytime by taxi. The perspective from the back seat, was much different than from the hotel room, as cyclists veered to avoid the taxis that were not stopping for anyone. A transportation planner commented that the days for these types of intersections, were coming to an end.
There was another 10-lane street through the heart of the city again with treed-medians separating two lanes from the inner six-lanes and thoroughly clogged with traffic. For this street, a design exercise was under way to consider how two lanes of traffic could be reassigned to bus lanes. The thought was to take two lanes away from one side of the street. Nowhere in the discussion was consideration given to taking any lanes and reassigning them to cycling.
In the city core, the roads were so congested with cars that the traffic moved slowly. Somehow cyclists managed to make their way through it all. “Slow motorized vehicle driving speed at approximately cycling speed encourages cycling”, so goes the hypothesis. The question remains: how may cyclists will be drawn to slow speed? Just a borderline few cyclists or the mega throng that used to cycle and now drive? Now the question also may be posed as: how many drivers will be drawn from their cars if cycling facilities were installed that really appealed to drivers? Some insight to this question is being seen with evidence-based data in some cities, such as Vancouver, where a comprehensive cycling traffic volume monitoring program has been undertaken. 24-hour monitoring is being done on separated cycling facilities and bike lanes as well at other locations.
Meanwhile, in an older part of the city with walled blocks, and a 300-year old Buddha temple where personal income may not be so high, there is light traffic with most of it by a very basic moped.
The mayor and the deputy mayor both iterated that they want Changzhi to become a model city of sustainable transportation for China. The statements came forth with conviction at private lunches with the two officials and the speakers of a Shared Transport Forum in October, 2011 where I had the privilege of being invited to speak.
What a difference between the airports of Beijing and Changzhi. Beijing is a very modern, high traffic, and high efficient airport where passengers are
moved through quickly. Changzhi airport is a reminder of the airports that I used to fly into during the 1970’s in Northern Ontario — very basic with extremely limited service where one took only 5 to 10 minutes to go from the parking lot to the departure gate. Somehow, and sometimes expansiveness such as Beijing airport, does not mean efficient travelling.
Changzhi is a city of approximately 700,000 people within the Province of Shanxi. Shanix has a population of about 3.2 million and is located 650 km. south-west of Beijing. It is a transportation and industrial center. Manufacturing includes iron and steel machinery. Coal, iron ore, and asbestos are mined nearby. It is regarded as a medium comprehensive industrial city.