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Residential Relocation and Commuting Behavior in Shanghai, China: The Case for Transit Oriented Development

This paper examines the effects of residential relocation to Shanghai's suburbs on job accessibility and commuting, focusing on the influences of proximity to metrorail services and neighborhood environments on commute behavior and choices.

Introduction

Over the past decade, mainland Chinese cities have rapidly suburbanized. Fueling the centrifugal movement of people and jobs out of central cities has been rising disposable incomes which allow more housing consumption and not unrelated, private automobile ownership (Ingram, 1998). More and more, Chinese cities are mimicking the suburbanization trends and patterns of the post-World War II United States, the world’s most car-dependent nation.

The sustainability implications of car-oriented suburbanization are cause for concern. Since 1978 when China’s central government introduced its open-door policy of economic form, urban population has grown from 80 million to more than 560 million, an annual growth rate of 7.5% (Lin, 2002; Zhang, 2007). Vehicle ownership has increased at more than twice this rate. In Shanghai, the number of registered private automobiles jumped from 200,000 in 1991 to 1.4 million in 2002 (Zhang, 2007).

Urban China’s swift pace of peripheral growth has predictably overwhelmed roadway networks. From 2000 to 2003, China’s roads absorbed nearly 14 million additional vehicles – an average of almost 13,000 new cars and trucks per day (Appleyard et al., 2007). In central Beijing, the average travel speed on major arteries plummeted from 45 kph in 1994 to 12 kph in 2003 (Cervero, 2004B). Traffic snarls have in turn worsened air quality. A World Bank study shows that of the 20 most severely polluted cities in the world, 16 are located in China (Appleyard et al., 2007) . Threats to global pollution are further cause for alarm. Currently, the world’s second largest greenhouse gas emitter, China is on a pace to surpass the U.S. in 2008 (Fraker, 2007).

Among the strategies being pursued to head off rising traffic congestion and worsening environmental conditions have been investments in urban rail systems. Many Chinese cities are approaching the size (roughly 5 million inhabitants) and density thresholds (15,000 inhabitants per square kilometer in the urban core) often thought necessary to justify high-capacity railway investments (Cervero, 1998; Fouracre and Dunkerley, 2003). Urban rail systems are currently found in 12 mainland Chinese cities. Plans call for expanding and upgrading existing rail systems and building new ones in 15 other Chinese cities. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems are also being built or expanded in Beijing, Tianjin, Chengdu, Xian, and Kunming. The cities of Tianjin and Dalian also operate trams on central-city streets. Opportunities for creating sustainable city forms through bundling land development and railway investments in large Chinese cities are quite substantial and largely untapped. Today, increasing numbers of large, rail-served Chinese cities are looking to Transit-oriented development (TOD) as an alternative form of urbanism that reduces over-reliance on the private automobile.

This paper examines the effects of residential relocation to Shanghai’s suburbs on job accessibility and commuting, focusing on the influences of proximity to metrorail services and neighborhood environments on commute behavior and choices. The policy implications of the research findings on the planning and design of suburban communities in large cities like Shanghai are addressed in the conclusion. Our research suggests that TOD has a potentially important role to play in placing China’s large, rail-served cities on a more sustainable pathway.