Roses in street medians! Protected bike lanes everywhere! Bridges with bike ramps! Oh my! Throughout our time in China, I was blown away by the meticulous attention to detail in development projects.
In numerous instances, it was clear that urban planners paid close attention to how consumers used public spaces. From there, city planners conceived simple solutions to vexing issues. For example, crossing the street on foot or on bike can be dangerous. To make cities more pedestrian and bike friendly, city planners introduced overpass bridges with ramps to push strollers or bikes. In our meeting with the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, we learned how Guangzhou overcame traffic congestion through changes in the bus route. (For more information on the bus route changes, a fellow student covers the meeting in a blogpost below.)
In some instances, technology played a critical role in creating efficient and elegant transportation systems. Instead of traditional, clunky bike racks, bikes are locked digitally through QR codes. As a result, bike riders drop off their bikes in orderly rows on sidewalks. Small tech details created a user-friendly metro system, such as illuminated subway maps, train arrival clocks, and more.
These details might seem minor, but they created efficient and interconnected transportation systems. Pessimists might wonder if these details serve as a veneer for more troubling issues. While the roses in street medians may have entranced me, I couldn’t help but wonder if we were seeing the true development story in China. At the margins of Beijing and Guangzhou, are there issues that roses can’t cover?
In a statement at the museum for Guangzhou’s greenway, President Xi Jinping summed up the country’s attitude towards details in development projects. Roughly translated, President Xi stated, “In order to get the big things right in development projects, China must also get the little things right.” China is certainly getting the little things rights, and it’s a lesson for all countries – developing or wealthy – to not lose sight of the small details when pursuing major infrastructure projects. – A.P.