The Overhead Wire and the Live from the Third Rail blogs report the news that urban planners in Beijing have approved planning permission for six new subway lines that will begin construction by the end of the year, to be completed in 2012. From China View:
The six new lines – the No. 6, 8 and 9 lines, the second phase of the No. 10 line, and the Yizhuang and Daxing lines, have a total length of 152 kilometers, according to the Beijing Municipal Commission of Urban Planning. They will be completed in 2012.
Beijing currently has five subway lines in operation, with a total length of 142 kilometers.
“The city aims to raise the proportion of citizens choosing public transport from the current 30 percent to 45 percent by 2015, and the subway passenger volume will increase to eight million a day from the current 2.2 million,” said the commission’s Zhou Nansen.
In other words, Beijing will not only more than double the size of its subway system, but it will also execute a huge increase in transit share: all in just five years.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, we spent several years planning and constructing the T-Third, a single surface rail line, only five miles long, that initially ended up failing even the most basic of expectations. Months later, it is not clear that the T is superior to the bus service it replaced. If all moves according to schedule, within a decade, the T-Third will be extended north into Chinatown via the Central Subway project, in a mere 1.7-mile subway extension. With respect to construction timeline, track mileage, and number of stations, the subway extensions planned in Beijing are orders of magnitude more impressive than what we can pull off in San Francisco.
San Francisco and Beijing are by no means comparable in terms of population — but, just for the sake of argument, San Francisco is so compact that the construction of six additional subway lines would constitute a largely complete rapid transit network for the city. By Bay Area standards, I would be thrilled if we managed to build one new urban BART line by 2050, but who knows if I’ll still be around to see it. Even New York City — where you might think that sardine-can crush loads on the Lexington Avenue IRT provide more than enough motivation to have long ago completed an additional subway line running underneath the Upper East Side — even there, the “progress” made on the Second Avenue subway over the past several decades has been a joke.
The breakneck speed of the Beijing subway construction is in part due to the desire to complete a few new lines before the 2008 Olympics. Unfortunately, this haste has led to critical lapses. This past spring, a tunnel collapsed, and the death of six construction workers in the tunnel was unsuccessfully covered up. Of course, I am not advocating the sacrifice of a thorough design and review process (or basic security precautions during construction) just for the sake of speed. Still, the fact that other countries furnish the political and financial support that allow them to construct substantial subway lines quickly — while here in the United States, we spend years at a standstill, spending much more time to produce far less impressive results — is a continual source of frustration. Surely we can find a reasonable middle ground.
Image of Beijing subway courtesy David Beatus.