Top US Export to China: Bad Freeway Planning?

shenzhen china freeway cars photo

A freeway in Shenzhen, China. Photo: conbon33 / Creative Commons.

Drivers who were caught last year in a nine-day-plus traffic jam along the Beijing-Tibet Highway may be cheering China's ongoing efforts to rapidly and massively expand its freeway system -- but will more freeways really prevent future gridlock? And if so, at what price?A growing number of North American cities are contemplating or actually tearing down freeways that once sliced up metropolitan areas, revitalizing waterfronts and even creating farms -- and reducing traffic jams to boot. But instead of learning from the mistakes the United States made during its 1950s and 1960s freeway-building frenzy, China seems bent on repeating them.

Copying American Car Culture
"One of the mistakes spreading its way from America to China is the rampant construction of freeways in urban areas. Car culture may in fact be one of the only things America exports to China," blogger Aurash Khawarzad wrote for Pattern Cities after participating in a dialog between young Chinese planners and their American counterparts. (Hat tip to Simone Pekelsma for tweeting about his post.)

According to Khawarzad, even though China "didn't start building freeways until 1988, several decades after the United States," it already has more than 46,000 miles of expressways and is "expected to pass the U.S. Interstate Highway System in total mileage sometime this year."

Encouraging Superblock-Style Development
Compounding the expected impacts on the environment and urban communities is the fact that streets leading off from expressways are sometimes practically highways themselves.

"Some 'streets' include up to 10 vehicle lanes plus wide bicycle lanes that require traversing of over 225 feet of asphalt," one Pattern Cities commenter wrote in response to Khawarzad's post. "These streets support superblock-style development and discourage the use of walking and biking as safe and effective alternative travel modes."

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