Transported to Guangzhou

On our first day in Guangzhou, we visited the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), an international nonprofit with headquarters in New York City. In the China office, ITDP advises local governments on incorporating sustainable transportation options as their cities grow.


ITDP’s presentation focused on their work with Guangzhou’s government on demand modeling, corridor selection, station design, and public communication for what has become the highest capacity Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in Asia. Today, ITDP reports that the 7-year-old Guangzhou BRT:

  • Carries 850,000 riders per day
  • Sends 350 buses per hour through the busiest section… a laid-back pace of about 1 bus every 10 seconds
  • Integrates with the subway and 100+ bike share stations throughout the city
  • Helped to increase adjacent land values (in conjunction with greenway, bike parking, and architecture projects) by 30%

Pioneered in South America, BRT has emerged as an increasingly popular transit solution in China. It’s less expensive for cities than building a subway or light rail. And it’s more efficient than a traditional bus system. In Guangzhou, adding dedicated BRT lanes along the city’s central Zhongshan Avenue improved traffic flow, reduced travel time, and increased satisfaction scores in ITDP’s survey of transit riders, cyclists, and pedestrians.

Before + after BRT in GZ (ITDP photos)

Our class has discussed the important role international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) play in policy development at all levels in China, so we were interested to learn that ITDP worked directly with the mayor of Guangzhou to approve Zhongshan as a high-risk, high-reward corridor for BRT operations. ITDP also worked directly with state media sources to publicize the benefits of mass transit, which helped to convince a skeptical public of the value of BRT.

I was slightly jealous to see how extensive and popular the Guangzhou BRT has become, considering my hometown of metro Detroit just voted down a measure to build a modern regional transit system that incorporated BRT corridors. I was conscious throughout our time in Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen of how the lack of support for public transit projects has repeated itself in several parts of the United States. Perhaps Guangzhou and the other Chinese cities ITDP advises can serve as case studies for American cities seeking the environmental improvement, equitability, and economic competitiveness that well-designed mass transit can bring.

For now, we had a great experience learning about the evolution of Guangzhou’s transit system and then testing it out ourselves!

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