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Guangzhou Bus-Sharing (BRT) vs. Hangzhou Bike-Sharing

April 05, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

[Hat tip: Urban Velo]

This post was inspired by a bit of news about a new BRT line that was just approved to run from Hartford, Connecticut to New Britain, Connecticut. The existing rail line will be torn up, virtually guaranteeing that dignified motorized transport will never again be possible on this right of way — unless they eventually allow cars to use it.

And since buses take up so much more room than trains, it is not likely there will be enough space for pedestrians or cyclists to share the right of way, but who knows? The Cleveland BRT line has a small bike lane along part of it that almost nobody uses — because people aren’t into cycling next to monster buses, apparently. And the BRT Orange Line in LA has a bike path along part of it — I’m not sure how many folks use it — it can be difficult to use, has at times fallen into trashy disuse with overgrown vegetation and homeless encampments, and suffered from the myriad problems that bike paths typically suffer from (lack of subjective safety, etc.).

As a final insult, this Hartford busway project will actually pave new roadway (which will require expensive and ongoing maintenance, like the LA Orange Line BRT) — which is why BRT is often correctly criticized for being a road-building tool which clears buses off of roadways to make room for cars. Folks in Bath, UK are facing a similar BRT road-building scheme in their town.

This is not the first time rail lines have been torn up to make room for paved busways — much of the LA Orange Line removed existing rail lines.

It’s long been my contention that one of the purposes of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is to destroy public transit, and ultimately put and keep more people in cars. BRT is just the modern form of bustitution, which really accelerated the destruction of mass transit in America. Many ‘progressive’ transit/transportation advocates are incredulous — they say, “Can’t we all just get along?” But this is ignoring the reality of busways. BRT is being used as a poison pill to stop the development of high-quality public transit, and in doing so also destroys sustainability and livability efforts.

It’s rare that I spot a comment in the wild that actually agrees with one of my main contentions against BRT — that it is fundamentally anti-human:

One other thing that gets lost in the discussion of the wonderfulness of Bogota or Curitiba’s systems is how anti-urbanist they are, at root. In the central core they are, together with the parallel roads for cars, tremendously massive multilane monsters.

And these multi-lane monsters are no different than any other highway or freeway that we’re used to having to avoid and ride over or under while we try to avoid being killed — these monsters are not conducive to human life, to a dignified existence — and we should not tolerate them — they should be dismantled, and re-appropriated for suitable uses.

The commenter goes on with a sentiment I don’t agree with:

I suppose if you’ve already carved up your city with a twelve-lane expressway, then re-dedicating some of the lanes to express buses is not a bad way to improve the mobility of the carless. But it’s not the sort of thing you’d want to build from scratch.

The commenter seems to be saying, if you’ve already destroyed your city with bad urbanism, then building some new thing which is slightly less horrific could be a step in the right direction — but I’m with JHK on this point — we have to do things right, not just less wrong:

And in fact, the remedy for wounded and mutilated urbanism is good urbanism, good buildings.

Which brings us to the latest pro-BRT video from Streetfilms. I want to compare the urban/walking/biking environment created by BRT (Bus-Sharing) in the town of Guangzhou (pronunciation) to that created by Bike-Sharing in Hangzhou (pronunciation). Both of these cities would be among the top 5 largest cities in America:

Now compare that with the Hangzhou bike-sharing system, as profiled by the often-excellent Al Jazeera English:

These are, of course, not the same systems. The BRT system moves approximately 800,000 people per day, and the bike-sharing system moves 300,000 people per day.

And we should keep in mind that China was once known as the “Kingdom of Bicycles” for a reason. There are all sorts of quotes from leading politicians over the years, even some Americans, who have gone to China and come home proclaiming how awesome bikes are and how everyone should have one, etc. — however, any American politician hoping to further their political career would have been quickly reigned in by Detroit.

A new study on the Hangzhou bike-sharing scheme says the following (pdf):

Abstract: Over the past 20 years, China has experienced a steady decline in bicycle use. To address this trend, China’s central and local government for urban transportation created the “Public Transit Priority” to encourage public transport initiatives. As part of this effort, the Hangzhou government launched “Hangzhou Public Bicycle” in 2008. This service allows members to access a shared fleet of bicycles. As of March 2011, it operated 60,600 bicycles with 2,416 fixed stations in eight core districts.

Yes, some of the numbers coming out of China are truly astounding. But don’t lose focus — keep your eyes on the prize — do you want your town to look and feel and consume energy like the dystopia that is Guangzhou, or do you want to live some place with at least a trace of greenery and calmness and livability like Hangzhou?

I’m not the first to suggest that BRT should be promoted as Bike Rapid Transit, not Bus Rapid Transit. Of course, the largest oil and gas and car and bus companies in the world are not going to be interested in pouring millions of dollars into advocacy efforts aimed at promoting non-motorized transport, but we shouldn’t be disheartened — bicycles are near-perfect working machines — all we have to do is tell people about it, and organize them around it.

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