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Ensuring universal access: Lessons from the field in China

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Also available: 中文
Ensuring that urban roads are designed to be accessible to all users — particularly to users with mobility challenges — has long been a cornerstone of the World Bank’s urban transport strategy. But even if making urban roads more accessible involves relatively simple interventions such as building functioning sidewalks with tactile markings and curbside ramps, consistent implementation has not been easy.

Although the incremental costs associated with such upgrades are fairly negligible, attention to detail is paramount. That is not always easy, and the attached picture (at right) taken during an implementation support mission some years ago illustrates this challenge quite well — this ramp is not aligned with sidewalk and too narrow for a wheelchairs to actually use.  
 
Within that context, a project that took us to a series of medium-sized cities in North East China turned into one of the most memorable experiences of our careers. The Liaoning Medium Cities Infrastructure Project focused on rehabilitating and improving urban roads in five medium-sized cities of the industrial province of Liaoning. While on paper all the final designs complied with official accessibility requirements, the finished product often looked like the attached picture, with just enough askew to render the infrastructure unusable to many users. As the Bank team, we were struggling to get our counterparts within the city government to appreciate the issue. When we pointed out and followed up on particular issues, they would often see us as being nitpicky and somewhat out-of-touch with the gritty realities of construction in local conditions. 

Roads and the Environment: Lessons from the Yiba Expressway

Chris Bennett's picture

My last project in China before transferring to Europe and Central Asia in 2008 was the Yichang-Badong (Yiba) expressway. This was a US$ 2.2 billion expressway through very challenging terrain, including the ‘Three Gorges National Park’. 
 
It was massive—as evidenced by the following:

  • 172 km of expressways and 35.4 km of inter-connecting roads
  • 148 bridges for a total length of 70 km
  • 75 tunnels for a total length of 61 km
  • 3.75 million m3 of earthworks
  • US$ 12.6 million/km
Faced with these challenges, including the longest tunnel of 7.5 km, the Hubei provincial government was concerned about the potential negative environmental impact of the project. These concerns were echoed by some at the Bank who I recall saying ‘why on earth would you want to put an expressway through a national park?’

The answer was quite simple. The expressway was going ahead with or without the World Bank’s involvement. The Hubei government wanted the Bank to assist them in making the project an example of how to construct an expressway through an environmentally sensitive area with minimal impacts. Management fully supported this and I was tasked with helping realize this vision, although unfortunately I was not involved with the implementation.

How should a city administration respond to the shared cab phenomenon?

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Follow the authors on Twitter: @shomik_raj and @cataochoa
 
Smartphone apps are bringing massive changes to the taxi industry in ways that urban transport has not seen in a long while. From the US to China and Latin America (Bogota, Mexico), taxi alternative services have attained an impressive level of penetration in a short amount of time, often with great controversy. Indeed, many cities across the world are struggling with what to make of these services and how to regulate them.

While we have not been significantly involved with such services thus far, a recently appointed mobility secretary in a big Latin American city has asked us for support on developing an approach to the shared taxi industry, as part of a "Smart Mobility" strategy for the city. In that context, we wanted to start a conversation on optimal strategies for cities to be able to welcome and foster such innovations, while still capitalizing on the opportunity to create value for its citizens.

Passengers of recently opened Wuzhou-Nanning rail line describe new opportunities

Gerald Ollivier's picture

World Bank Sr. Infrastructure Specialist Gerald Ollivier interacts with passengers on the new Wuzhou-Nanning rail line
During a supervision mission in May, our team had the chance to hear from railway users about the many ways in which the new rail line between Wuzhou and Nanning is already having an impact on their lives. Compared to the relatively theoretical ways in which we often assess and talk about railway impact (think "agglomeration benefits" or "improved connectivity and accessibility"), I found this experience refreshing and gratifying. For many, the opening of a new railway line brings about a host of opportunities, whether it is new jobs, the possibility of meeting more clients or meeting existing clients more frequently, a chance to visit relatives located far away, or maybe even an opportunity to do a bit of tourism.

The first half of the NanGuang railway line opened in mid April 2014. It is one of the six railway projects currently supported by the World Bank in China. It connects the city of Wuzhou to Nanning, two cities located 240 km apart, in the relatively poor autonomous region of Guangxi.  The train, a brand new Electric Motorized Unit (see picture below), is clean and modern. It cuts across a highly mountainous terrain, zooming at about 200 kph through many tunnels and bridges.

Transforming Transportation for More Inclusive, Prosperous Cities

Jose Luis Irigoyen's picture
Also available in: Español | Français | 中文

 UNFCCC/FlickrLeaders in the transport, development, and for the first time, business sectors will convene for Transforming Transportation this week in Washington, DC.

Cities are the world’s engines of economic growth. Yet many have a long way to go when it comes to ensuring safe and affordable access to jobs, education, and healthcare for its citizens—in part because their transport systems are inadequate and unsustainable. This weakness is visible in packed slums and painful commutes in cities that fail to provide affordable transport options.

Inadequate transport comes with other costs related to air quality and safety. Beijing, China, battles dangerous levels of air pollution due in large part to motor vehicle emissions. Major Indian metropolises like Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai are growing out instead of up, contributing to increased travel distances and an estimated 550 deaths every day from traffic accidents. And across the globe, cities are the locus of up to 70 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions driving climate change.

Poor transport systems not only hinder the public health and economic growth of cities, they can spur civil unrest. More than 100,000 protestors, for example, gathered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on one night in June 2013 to express a wide range of grievances, including transportation fare hikes, poor public services despite a high tax burden, and other urban issues.

But in these challenges lie significant opportunities – particularly for the business and transport sectors at the city level.

“They are sitting on a gold mine and don’t even know it….”

Holly Krambeck's picture

The other day, my colleague Roger Gorham, a transport economist working in Africa, shared with me an interesting story. He was in Lagos, meeting with stakeholders about setting up public-private partnerships for transport initiatives. One meeting revealed that, in an effort to improve service, a private entity had invested in new taxis for Lagos and in each had installed a GPS unit. This little revelation may not seem interesting, but it was very exciting to Roger, who also learned that the company has amassed more than 3 years of GPS tracking data for these taxis (which, incidentally, troll the city like perfect probes, nearly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) and that this data could be made available to him, if he thought he might make some use of it.

Now, if you are reading this blog, chances are that you realize that with this kind of data and a little analysis, we can quickly and easily reveal powerful insights about a city’s transport network – when and where congestion occurs, average traffic volumes, key traffic generators (from taxi pick-up point data), occurrence of accidents and traffic blockages in real time, and even the estimated effects of congestion and drive cycle on fuel efficiency.

As Roger said, “They are sitting on a gold mine and don’t even know it….”

Now that you’ve built it, why won’t they come?

Holly Krambeck's picture

If the proven, certified technology is cheap, makes companies more profitable, and at the same time, more green, then why doesn’t every company use it?

 

This is the mystery that our team now faces in Guangdong Province, China, where we are leveraging a multi-million dollar grant from the Global Environment Facility to support the retrofitting of freight trucks with Smartway (and similarly) verified Green Freight technologies*. These technologies improve the fuel efficiency of trucks, and their costs are recovered through fuel savings – in some cases, in as little as six months.   So, the pervasive question – if they are so cost-effective and improve the competitiveness of businesses, why aren’t these technologies used…everywhere?

 

It is an interesting question, because its answer points us to the broader issue of  market barriers in developing countries. How do we identify these barriers, and what is that "spark" that sets market forces in motion? 

 

Road safety is everyone's responsibility. Mine too.

Said Dahdah's picture

Here is a quiz question for you: "You are driving on a highway and you suddenly realize that you just missed the intended exit ramp. What would you do?"  Most people would hopefully say “Go to the next exit ramp.” However, as we recently found out, 12% of truck drivers in China said: “Back up or turn-around to the missed exit ramp.”

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