Traffic Planning in China - Need for and possibility of integrated traffic planning in the People's Republic of China

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2007

24 Pages


Table of Contents



1 Introduction

2 Historic Development
2.1 Before 1979
2.2 Deng’s Reforms

3 Economic, Demographic and Political Changes
3.1 Rapidly Growing Economy
3.2 Changing Demographics
3.3 Political Decisions Affecting Transport Needs

4 Current State of the Traffic System
4.1 Increase in Motorization
4.2 Personal Car Focus
4.3 Costs of Motorization

5 Current State of the Traffic Planning
5.1 General Power Structure
5.2 Power Structure in Traffic Planning

6 Implications for Integrated Traffic Planning
6.1 Need for integrated traffic planning
6.2 Possibilities for integrated traffic planning



Figure 1: GDP of the PRC in billion Yuan

Figure 2: Imports & exports of the PRC in billion yuan

Figure 3: Transport of goods in billion ton-km

Figure 4: Rural and Urban Population in the PRC in % of total population

Figure 5: Car density over GDP per capita

Figure 6: Modal split in fright traffic in billion ton-km

Figure 7: Modal split in passenger traffic in billion ton-km

Figure 8: Number of Vehicles in 10 000

Figure 9: Structure in traffic planning

Figure 10: DRC in traffic planning

Figure 11: Project Planning


Table 1: Projections for number of vehicles and passenger cars (in million units)

1 Introduction

Due to the constantly high rate at which the economy of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is developing, the demand for transportation of passengers as well as goods is not only rapidly growing but also changing in nature.

To cope with the growing and changing demand for transport the PRC’s authorities in charge of traffic planning have to come up with new ideas. The current strategy of isolated action for every mode of transportation will, as I show later, not be sufficient to keep up with the constant growth of the demand. This is further strengthened by the fact that a large part of the measures taken by the authorities are merely trying to catch up with changed demand. At the current level of traffic development and with the current growth rates this strategy will not be expedient in the future.

To understand the changing demand for transportation it is necessary to know and understand the reasons for the change. I will therefore try to give a very short overview of the relevant historical developments and economic, demographic and political changes. Based on this knowledge I will attempt to draw a picture of the current state of the traffic system and traffic planning structures in the PRC and possible development scenarios. This will provide the background necessary to evaluate the state and possibilities of integrated traffic planning in the PRC.

2 Historic Development

China has a long and, especially in the 20th century, turbulent history. Even though the last 30 years (especially Deng Xiaoping Open Door Policy) are probably the most important with respect to the current traffic situation it is also important to know a little about historic developments before 1979. During this era, transport demand and decisions were dominated by ideological and military needs. On the one hand, Mao wanted the regions to be self sufficient. On the other hand he wanted important military installations and industry relevant to national security scattered all over the country (to avoid vulnerability). This led to the heavy industry (the focus of the PRC’s economy by ideological choice) being located in isolated and remote areas. (Reardon 2002)

2.1 Before 1979

Prior to 1912 China had a series of emperors. Because of the size of China and the inefficient transport means the economy was traditionally very fragmented. The economic activities were organized around local economic and administrative centers. The transport needs were thus local and only certain end products were transported over long distances in small quantities. The imperial government did not interfere with local policy except for certain large-scale projects. (Friedmann 2005, p.7) In the 19th century China had some painful experiences with colonies on its territory. Due to the western powers’ advanced technologies, they could easily establish colonies along the coast of China. These open ports were the connection of the otherwise isolated Chinese economy with the rest of the world. This led to the economic growth of these cities on the east coast of china and a subsequent regional imbalance. The cities on the east coast also became centers for international as well as national trade.

With the establishment of the People’s Republic and the leadership of Mao Zedong, China once again went into a period of international isolation. This was especially true for international trade. Mao also implemented two other political ideas, the Great Leap Forward (1958 - 1962), which turned into the “world’s worst famine” (Woo-Cumings 2002), and the Cultural Revolution (1966 - 1968), a time of chaos and violence that was designed to return China to a state of rural economy (Harding 1997). The Cultural Revolution also wiped out a whole generation of academic and management offspring that is missed in Chinas booming economy now (Economist 2005). Those ideologically motivated actions left China an economically weak and handicapped country at the end of Mao’s rule.

2.2 Deng’s Reforms

After Mao’s death on September 9th 1976 there was a period power struggles between various groups from which Deng Xiaoping emerged as winner in 1979. He started implementing reform policies including his foreign policy best known as Open Door Policy. His reforms were motivated by and accepted because of the obvious failure of the previous government policy and the poor state over all of the PRC’s economy. Other than the continuance of the One-Child-Policy that is described in detail in 3.2 S. J. Gabriel (1998) sums Deng’s reform goal up as:

- Decentralization of control over the state owned enterprise sector
- Expanded market transactions to replace command and control allocation
- Dismantling of the rural commune system
- Increased use of material incentives in workplaces
- Ultimately the "modernization" of the Chinese economic infrastructure (as well as the military infrastructure)

A simple indicator for the reforms also used by Deng himself is the gross domestic

product (GDP). Deng had the goal to triple the GDP of the PRC between 1984 and 2000 (Deng Xiaoping; 1984). As Figure 1 impressively shows this goal has been more than reached. It can be deducted from this expansion that the need for internal transportation would grow with the GDP (or even more due to the Ladder-Step-Doctrine as described below).

Figure 1: GDP of the PRC in billion Yuan

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: National Bureau of Statistics of the Peoples Republic of China, 2005: China Statistical Yearbook 2005 In a similar pattern the imports and exports grew as shown in Figure 2. This is a logical result from the opening up to international trade of Deng’s Open-Door-Policy.

Figure 2: Imports & exports of the PRC in billion yuan

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: National Bureau of Statistics of the Peoples Republic of China, 2005: China Statistical Yearbook 2005

One other factor increasing the need for transport of goods within the PRC is Deng’s Ladder-Step-Doctrine (Friedmann, J.; 2005). The Ladder-Step-Doctrine was outlined in the seventh five-year plan for the PRC. It included a chain of production from west to east. China’s west, which was rich in natural resources but technologically lagging behind - even by standards of the PRC - would provide the resources. In the center of China the heavy industry would process the resources provided to them and ship them to the eastern coast. There the technologically advanced industries would finish them. Also in the eastern port-cities the export to western countries was easier. The location of those technologically advanced and export industries in the large coastal cities was rooted in the former colonies in those locations.

Following this doctrine most products and their parts were transported through all of China over their production cycle. This created an extensive need for the transport of large amounts of raw materials and goods over large distances. The transport of goods is still dominated by rail and ship as can be seen in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Transport of goods in billion ton-km

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: National Bureau of Statistics of the Peoples Republic of China, 2005: China Statistical Yearbook 2005

In the tenth five-year-plan then the Ladder-Step-Doctrine was partially taken back (Friedmann, J.; 2005) and in the eleventh five-year-plan the development of all regions is planned (NDRC 2006). This leads to more complex transport schemes that in themselves do not explain an increased demand for transporting goods. Li Liancheng (2005) and others expect the increase in the demand for transportation of goods to be unchanged.

3 Economic, Demographic and Political Changes

The change in the demand for transportation was the result of the change of circumstances. Bleijenberg (2002) identifies the main drivers for transport growth as:

- Population growth
- Income growth
- Reduction in the costs for production and distribution
- Reduction in the (generalized) costs of freight transport, including risks and reliability I will address these drivers in the general categories economic, demographic and political change as most of the changes in the respective areas have implications on multiple drivers.

3.1 Rapidly Growing Economy

As already shown in Figure 1 the economic growth (represented by the growth of the GDP) of the PRC since the beginning of the reforms in 1979 is impressive. Most experts project a continued growth of the PRC’s economy and the government of the PRC has been trying to limit the growth to 7,5% (NDRC 2006) for years and it has always been between this 7,5% and 10%. So it is safe to assume a steady growth with rates similar to those.

3.2 Changing Demographics

There are two aspects of the demographic change in the PRC that are important for future traffic demand and thus for traffic planning. One aspect is the aging society largely caused by the one child policy and increasing life expectancy. The other aspect is the migration to the cities.

According to the United Nations the population of the PRC will be shrinking from 2030 onwards (Economist 2006). The main cause of this significant change in population growth is the One-Child-Policy. This policy allowing every couple (with exceptions) to have one child only, was designed after the tragic failure of the Great Leap Forward where Mao’s idea that "the more people, the stronger we are" (Potts 2006). It lead to a tragic over-population and severe famines. So the state council under Deng implemented new regulations (the one-child-policy existed before but was not strictly enforced) "so the rate of population growth may be brought under control as soon as possible." (Potts 2006) Subsequently the fertility rate dropped from 2.29 children per woman in 1980 to 1.69 in 2004 (Asia Monitor: China & North East Asia Monitor 2005). “If current trends continue, the ratio of working-age people to retirees could fall from six in 2004 to just two in 2040” (Asia Monitor: China & North East Asia Monitor 2005). This would not only challenge the economy in terms of the decline of labor force and increasing number of retirees to support but also have significant impact on transportation demand. While the over all danger for the economy is still disputed (Economist 2006) the implications of an aging population on transportation demands are not (Infas 2005).

The other change bound to influence traffic demand and planning fundamentally is the ongoing and rapid urbanization. As depicted in Figure 4 the urbanization has been rapid and accelerated even more in the mid-1990s. It is also notable that the cities on the east coast grow by far more rapidly (an average of 48% per year) while the cities in the PRC’s west grow much slower (Jing Neng Li 2001). This rapid growth of the urban population in combination with the preferential treatment (further described in 3.3) of personal cars leads to some implications for the traffic planning in Chinese cities.

Figure 4: Rural and Urban Population in the PRC in % of total population

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: National Bureau of Statistics of the Peoples Republic of China, 2005: China Statistical Yearbook 2005

3.3 Political Decisions Affecting Transport Needs

The regional distribution and the economic connection with the outside world changed due to political goals over time. As described above the economy went from a regionally oriented one to a regionally autonomous one with scattered heavy industry, then via the Ladder-Step-Doctrine to a complex distribution. The traffic demand changed accordingly.

Also the planning paradigms changed from mere accommodation of demand to shaping traffic through providing certain traffic options. This closely resembles the stages of western traffic planning paradigms as described by Arndt and Hänel (2003) with a much faster pace.

There are also significant regional differences in the policies concerning traffic planning. As shown in Figure 5 there is a general connection between the GDP per capita and the car density (as the National Research Council found for most countries). The regional differences between the two large cities Beijing and Shanghai are however a result of differences in policy towards personal cars (National Research Council 2003).


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Traffic Planning in China - Need for and possibility of integrated traffic planning in the People's Republic of China
Technical University of Berlin
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Traffic, Planning, China, Need, People, Republic
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David Block (Author), 2007, Traffic Planning in China - Need for and possibility of integrated traffic planning in the People's Republic of China, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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