Traffic rules the roost in Shanghai
Updated: 2012-07-09 07:58
By Hong Liang (China Daily)
Shanghai is never shy about declaring its ambition to be a world-class city that can match New York or London for style and sophistication. And nobody can accuse the municipal government of a lack of effort.
Its efforts are obvious even to the first time visitor to this city with its rich and colorful history. The new terminal at Pudong International Airport is enormous, and as clean and as efficient, if not more so than the airports at most other major metropolises. Driving into the city, the visitor is treated to row after row of gleaming skyscrapers on both sides of the elevated highways.
As space in Lujiazui, a financial district established in the 1990s by government decree, is running out, so the municipal authorities are building another financial district next to the historic Bund on the west bank of the Huangpu River. What's more, the government has spared no effort in recreating the city's cultural identity by rehabilitating many areas of historic significance, and designating them as either creative industry parks or entertainment enclaves.
Environmentally, the city has also gone through a major makeover since the hosting of the World Expo in 2010. New roads were built, streets repaved, trees planted and flower beds erected on what were once garbage dumps in many neighborhoods.
The private sector, too, has contributed much to improving the quality of life in the city. The high-end entertainment area of Xintiandi was the brainchild of a flamboyant Hong Kong property tycoon. But the collective efforts of the owners of the many quaint boutiques, charming coffee shops and gourmet eateries have created the vibrant Tianzifang, which has surpassed Xintiandi in popularity among expatriates living in Shanghai and the growing numbers of hip, young Chinese executives and professionals.
Slices of Shanghai's past, captured in the tree-lined streets in the old French Concession with their mansions that used to house warlords and merchant princes, and the nongtang, or inner-city residential compounds of low-rise tenements mostly built in the 1930s, have managed to survive the tyranny of progress. These are best appreciated on foot. But an afternoon stroll down memory lane in Shanghai can be as harrowing as it is sweet.
To put it bluntly, it's just not safe to walk on the street in this city. Observing the traffic lights when crossing the street is no guarantee of safety. There are always cars trying to drive pedestrians off the streets, irrespective of the traffic lights. To survive, Shanghai pedestrians must learn not only to dodge the cars but also the hoard of motorcycles, electric bikes and bicycles whose kamikaze riders have respect for neither traffic rules nor human life.
Walking home one evening in a light drizzle, I saw an elderly man a few steps in front of me hit by a bicycle traveling in the wrong direction down a one-way street. The rider, a young mother with her daughter riding on the carriage rack, simply remounted and rode on without a word of apology. That made me wonder why this government, which takes so much pride in what it has done to improve people's livelihoods, has failed so miserably in making the roads save for everyone.
It is not because of a lack of traffic regulations. The problem lies in the will to enforce them. There used to be a traffic jam at the junction of Central Huaihai Road and Xizang Road during rush hours, until a police officer was posted there to stop cars from charging into the intersection even when the road ahead was blocked.
Shanghai may choose to look beyond Hong Kong for its model of development. But in Hong Kong, diligent traffic management has made the roads safe for both motorists and pedestrians. We keep hearing Shanghai officials extolling their "human-oriented" approach to development. But the traffic management belies this and it will inhibit Shanghai's grand design to be a world-class city.
(China Daily 07/09/2012 page8)