On a bad day, driving the 30 kilometers from Beijing’s airport to the city’s center can take up to an hour. If urban planners have their way, residents of the megalopolis of Beijing and Tianjin and the surrounding province of Hebei in six years will be able to cross that entire urban sprawl in roughly the same amount of time.
On Tuesday, official Chinese media, citing a recent media interview with a Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport official, said that 9,500 kilometers of railway lines will crisscross the regional hub of 100 million people – awkwardly called Jing-Jin-Ji–by 2020. Under the plan, dwellers of the two-city, one-province urban jungle will be able to travel between major centers by rail in just 60 minutes.
That should be good news to Beijing’s beleaguered commuters, many of whom use private cars to get to work giving rise to some of the worst traffic congestion in the world.
During vacation periods, traffic jams can sometimes be even worse as hordes take to the roads to escape the capital. In the recent May Day holiday, a traffic jam of 55 kilometers in length formed on one of the highways leaving Beijing, according to the website of state-controlled China Radio International.
For now there appears to be no sign of a let-up in Chinese desire to own a car. Last year almost 18 million passenger cars were sold in the country, making it the world’s largest market. Consultancy IHS Automotive forecasts that figure to grow by just over 10% this year.
Experts say poor urban planning is also at fault and say cities like Beijing put too much emphasis on building infrastructure and not enough on integrating different transport modes such as rail and road or building up robust public transportation systems.
Still, Beijing city planners' increased attention to suburban rail offers some hope that life in what combined would be the world's largest city might be about to get a little easier.