China’s Investment in Subways Puts the U.S. to Shame

Seven of the world's 12 largest subway systems are now in China, and the country isn't about to stop building. Chart: Yonah Freemark
Seven of the world's 12 largest subway systems are now in China, and the country isn't about to stop building. Chart: Yonah Freemark

In America, we spend tens of billions of dollars on transportation infrastructure each year — mostly on roads that induce driving and traffic, increase carbon emissions, and claim a shocking number of lives. The nation’s political leadership is currently dithering about how to pay for a $200 billion infrastructure package that promises more business-as-usual spending. And the Trump White House is withholding funds for transit expansion projects across the country for ideological reasons.

Meanwhile, China is currently in the midst of the most ambitious subway construction boom the world has ever seen. The implications for the future of the country — as well as the global climate — are huge. Yonah Freemark at the Transport Politic takes a look at the dizzying pace of rapid transit expansion in dozens of Chinese cities:

A country largely bereft of metros in the 1990s now has more than 5,000 kilometers of metro lines, more than four times the U.S. figure, which has increased very slowly since the 1960s. 25 Chinese cities now have systems, and the number is rising every year.

Of the 12 largest metro networks in the world by length, seven are now in China. As of December 2017, Guangzhou’s metro passed New York’s Subway in length, and Beijing and Shanghai have by far the longest systems.

Some estimates suggest that Chinese cities will have more than 10,000 kilometers of metro lines by 2020. That’s in addition to the almost 1,000 kilometers of bus rapid transit, hundreds of kilometers of tramways, and massive commuter rail systems that have been built in cities around the country — not to mention the enormous high-speed rail network that has been constructed since 2007.

This investment in metro capacity has been met by a popular shift in how people get around. Current Chinese metro lines collectively carry about twice as many riders as the entire American public transportation network, buses, trains, and all.

The “riding habit” — the frequency of transit use per capita — has risen quickly in city after city. Guangzhou and Beijing now have greater use of their systems than any American city except for New York, with the average resident there taking 189 and 167 rides per year, respectively, compared to 230 per year in Gotham. Beijing and Shanghai systems now each carry more than ten million daily riders, the two highest figures in the world. And they have both doubled their ridership since 2010. It seems likely that the other cities following their path in line construction will eventually follow their lead in ridership, too.

Metro construction in China is largely the product of a massive central government investment. Between 2010 and 2015, the nation spent the equivalent of $189 billion on such lines, and between 2016 and 2020, it is expected to spend between $262 and $308 billion more. The U.S. government dedicates about $2.3 billion per year in total for all transit projects, so less than one-fifteenth of the Chinese investment.

Obviously, one reason China is able to pull off a massive infrastructure initiative like this is its top-down one-party dictatorship. But messy American democracy has managed to build large-scale public works before. Today, however, austerity and anti-urbanism define federal policy here, and high costs inhibit what cities can do on their own. In the “act of comparison” to China, Freemark says, “the illness of American planning is made apparent.”

More recommended reading today: The Urban Edge explains how millennial migration has reshaped downtown Phoenix and Houston, and why those sustaining that growth might be a challenge. And the Tampa Bay Times says bus rapid transit could be the answer to the region’s mobility problems — but not if it gets watered down.

65 thoughts on China’s Investment in Subways Puts the U.S. to Shame

  1. You don’t need autocracy to build stuff. Japan built a lot between the 1950s and 90s, and Spain has been building a lot since the 90s. South Korea built some under the military government and has built more since its transition to democracy in 1987.

  2. The article might as well have been titled “China’s Investment in Highways puts the US to Shame.” China’s currently has 136,000km of highway, almost double the 77,000km of the USA Interstate Highway System. China’s highway system surpassed the USA in 2011, the same year their rapid transit systems did.

    China has 4.3x the population of the USA, so one would expect its transit and highway systems to both surpass that of the USA. So only recently did its rapid transit systems reach parity with America’s on a per capita basis. And the USA still have 2.5x as much highway per capita as China.

    In order to pay for all this infrastructure, China has borrowed like crazy. Chinese debt now stands at more than 300% of GDP. Compare to the USA, where debt is about 100% of GDP, just shy of its high of 120% during WWII. France is at 97%, UK at 88%, Germany 68%.

    It’s hard to tell; but we might find in the future that having less debt an so-so infrastructure is better than being highly indebted to amazing infrastructure that one has a hard time paying off.

  3. That level of subway service and the riding habit that supports it is built on a level of density that is unimaginable in the United States. The American Dream is about providing villa-style single-family housing for almost everyone who wants it other than the poorest. Such low levels of density can only be practically served with private cars. China was denser to begin with, but it has also aggressively demolished most of its older low-density housing in urban areas and replaced it with high-rises. In the United States that would be politically and socially impossible.

    Another interesting factor driving subway ridership is that China has banned motorcycles in major cities. Many other countries in Asia use those to provide individual transportation in cities too dense for universal car driving. In southern Taiwan, the metro has failed to meet ridership projections because people didn’t give up their motorbikes.

  4. > This investment in metro capacity has been met by a popular shift in how people get around

    Yes… people are abandoning their bicycles, being pushed off the roads by the “need” to devote ever-increasing amounts of road space to cars. This is a conscious effort of the authorities to “clear the roads” so the elite can drive, by putting the average Joe onto a subway. Or people are newcomers to the cities, settling in apartments much farther out than previous city limits, and unable to bike. Previously, these people lived in villages and didn’t need to get around at all.

  5. > Obviously, one reason China is able to pull off a massive infrastructure initiative like this is its top-down one-party dictatorship.

    No, not obvious at all.

    Remember that the USA has built massive infrastructure initiatives in the past. For example, the original NY subway system, through the 1930’s. Or the Interstate Highway System in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Or going further back, the 19th century railroad network. Or the national power grid. None of these projects were accomplished at a particularly authoritarian time of American history.

    The scale is different in China, simply because China’s population today is almost 10x greater than America’s population in 1950, when the Interstate Highway System was begun. But when you scale things properly by a per capita basis, I think you will find that both democracies and authoritarian regimes are able to build major infrastructure projects.

  6. All comments would be accurate if China & US had the same labor and capital costs. US has the lowest cost of capital, while near the highest labor costs. Politics aside, given the labor & capital dynamics, the US should be building subways (high capital cost, low operating costs) when poor nations are using buses, not the other way around.

  7. China’s investment in everything puts the U.S. to shame.

    Part of it is catch up, with China trying to get what we already had. Can everyone in China take a hot shower every day? Probably not.

    And Chinese people live far worse so far more of national income can go to capital investment rather than consumption.

    Even so, in a couple of decades where will be areas of China with a population larger than the U.S. that is ahead of us, even if China on average remains behind because of the rest of it.

  8. “In order to pay for all this infrastructure, China has borrowed like crazy. Chinese debt now stands at more than 300% of GDP. Compare to the USA, where debt is about 100% of GDP, just shy of its high of 120% during WWII. France is at 97%, UK at 88%, Germany 68%.”

    U.S. national debt may be 100 percent of GDP, but total U.S. debts are much higher. We borrowed to buy back stock to jack up executive pay, and go out to eat at Applebees.

    Household debt falling due to mortgage defaults only. Bet 2017 will look worse. And The Donald is planning on one big national party for Generation Greed.

  9. But you do need to have good land-use policies, pursue cost-effective projects that either increase capacity bigly and/or keep operating costs down, and keep your construction costs down as well (cheaper procurement policies and using more disruptive construction methods), etc. The U.S. is good at none of these things. We pursue bad projects like Silver Line to Dulles, H St. Corridor, South Coast Rail, South Station Expansion, BQX, backwards LGA Airtrain Extension, BART to Barryessa, etc. And when we do good ones like Second Ave. Subway, there’s so much project bloat from super-deep stations with full-length mezzanines, etc. that the project has marginal — rather than good — value. So people wonder why we can’t have nice things here in the U.S. …

  10. Exactly… China banned motorcycles so they could replace many motorcycles with a few cars. It might jack up subway ridership numbers, but it’s not the kind of authoritarian policy I can support. The fact is, two-wheeled vehicles are faster, cheaper and lower carbon footprint than just about any rapid transit system. Why should one spend billions of dollars on a metro system when the existing system of e-bikes and mopeds already works well?

    > That level of subway service and the riding habit that supports it is built on a level of density that is unimaginable in the United States.

    It’s a good thing, not a bad thing, that we are less land-constrained in the USA than in China. Two big reasons:

    1. We have 1/4 the population.
    2. By and large, our cities (on the coasts) and our food production (the middle) occupy two completely separate realms.

    Combine these two factors… in China, expanding the footprint of a city by necessity decreases the availability of high-quality cropland. In the USA, much less so. In the Northeast, for example, cropland was abandoned almost 100 years before post-WWII suburbanization rebuilt these areas with subdivisions and shopping malls.

    Other advantages of the American setup include: less pollution and contamination of our food supply, and so much food oversupply that food security simply is not an issue.

  11. In 2016, I visited Beijing and got to experience the city’s phenomenal subway system. The network consists of two giant concentric circles which are criss-crossed by east-west and north-south lines. When taking a subway trip, all users pay by the distance traveled. My devious mind figured out that you could get on at one station, go around the circle the long way until you get back to an adjacent station, and then you would still only have to pay for one-stop. You know, just to get a good deal :).

  12. Well, there’s also aversion in US to change and improvements if it inconveniences even a few people. Consider that Amtrak wanted to speed up slow service that everyone makes fun of my diverting a Intercity trains to a less curvy highway alignment. It required a diversion hear a tiny town called Old Lyme. A few residents complained about the diversion track affecting a few properties and loss of service, so they convinced the senator to cancel it. The actual riders and the rest of tax payers don’t get the vote and we are stuck paying the higher costs of running out trains slowly.

  13. Reminds me of the phrase “don’t fix it if it isn’t broken”. I remember documentaries about China in the 1980s when rush hour was loads of bicycles. It worked fine, required no massive investment in infrastructure, and indirectly helped keep the population healthier. While subways are better than highways, neither is really needed if most people rarely travel further than a bicycle can take them. That’s the real solution. It’s also one I’ve been advocating for here. Instead of trying to expand the transportation system to keep pace with an ever increasing number of trips, take active steps to discourage travel, particularly mechanized transportation. Have more people work at home, don’t allow business trips to be deducted as expenses, and encourage active transportation whenever possible if people must travel..

  14. Made our Blade Runner future will actually happen, but with China helping America into the 21st century instead of Japan. We’ve become so insanely paralyzed despite having real problems – and opportunities for progress we purposefully shun. It’s disgusting this is the country our parents have left us.

  15. You guys sure harbor an idealized nostalgia about 1980s level China. If a pre-industrial bicycle riding Beijing is objectively better than mass transit Beijing, you should apply that same logic to say, Manhattan. You don’t have to nuke the subways, just strategically neglect maintenance. Let’s see how people will adjust to riding their bikes for short distances. Why stop there? Make gasoline and cars so prohibitively expensive, commuters will turn to skateboards and bicycles on the 5, 10, and 405. See how the ideas don’t sound so great when they’re applied to familiar locales?

    You can only romanticize bicycle-era Beijing because you never lived it. Heck, I doubt you ever came across anyone who could only rely on a bicycle and lived in a large urban area. What are the odds of them willfully exchanging their subway commute for long bike rides through the cold, wet, and heat?

    A lot of the bicycles uber alles thinking fits with the dominant developer-led libertarian/financially conservative urban planning. The idea is; infrastructure is expensive–Let the plebs fend for themselves. It’s not so different from Marie Antoinette’s reaction to starving peasants.

  16. You really need to look up Abe Lincoln’s plans for railroad financing, or the New Deal money printing. If debt really were that awful, the US would be in the absolute worst shape possible.

    And why are we still spending ungodly amounts on stuff like defense and white collar banker welfare?

    The US’ low urban density really isn’t anything to be proud of. You can say it’s a reflection of wealth. But then it’s also a reflection of ultra high expenses, and reliance on the private car. All these opinions–On an urban planning site.

  17. You just need an autocracy to build low density, highly profitable, car-dependent sprawl with the absolute nadir of mass transit spending.

    Technically it’s called developer-led market democracy. You know, cause developers are politically inclined and lobby municipal politicians.

    If we were to be honest, the system would be described as an oligarchy.

  18. You forgot the other part, namely that people only had to travel fairly short distances for which bicycles were eminently suitable. That’s a key reason to make neighborhoods more compact. A subway is certainly preferable to a highway, but neither might be needed if most people worked within a few miles of where they live.

  19. How high can the densities get? Do you realize Beijing has always been very dense, and basic services like schools, markets and recreational facilities are located within every neighborhood? Why do people still endure long commutes?

    What are the chances of the VAST majority of people in any metropolitan area being able to get everywhere via walking or even a bike?

    If density could negate the need for motorized transport, why does every large city either have mass transit, or rely on the default car?

    Are you insinuating that large cities should be broken up and people revert to living in small towns? It’d be nice, but instead of diverting attention at mass transit afflicted Beijing, let’s get rid of car-dependent LA first.

  20. I’m not sure if this is idealism at a ludicrous extreme, or just some weird projection against an anonymous foreign place.

    Bicycles aren’t a substitute for mass transit. Some people may like to ride their bikes as an option, or for recreation. But bicycles cannot cover nearly as much distance as any motorized vehicle. Not everyone is physically able to ride a bicycle. Not every city has a bicycle friendly climate. This leaves the car and mass transit.

    Ironically this site is focused on the US. You think cycling is a better/more plausible solution to America’s car-centric transportation system? How far can one cycle? How long is the average commute in the smallest American urban area?

    Yet you’ve spent multiple posts inveighing AGAINST Beijing’s efforts at providing a comprehensive transit system that benefits the vast majority of its population. Ask long-time residents if they prefer cycling to taking a subway. Ask residents of Manhattan if they’d want to return to an idealized pre-subway era of happy walking/cycling. Manhattan is geographically tiny, yet how many people would choose to cycle all but the shortest of distances?

    Railing (no pun intended) against mass transit benefits one main demographic–The libertarian developers who feel the need to proselytize their self-serving, infrastructure-austerity values as somehow environmentally friendly.

  21. By comparing with China, it is obvious that many US political/economic dogmas, ideologies, theories etc are flawed. They were not questioned before because of the ‘eye cannot see itself’ syndrome. The US should have the humility of learning from China, particularly with respect to infrastructure construction.

  22. Lolz. I see the post-1979, Reagan/Friedman, rightwing turn in politics as the American version of China’s Great Leap Forward. ‘Cept the US is falling from a very high starting point. But it’s still falling, and its patina of wealth and its hubris obscures many people from seeing the reality.

    These posts have people criticizing Chinese investment in mass transit as being bad because:

    1. bicycles are better
    2. it costs money
    3. democracies are messy and inefficient

    Point one would make more sense if ANY urban area elsewhere in the world had bikes that would magically cover the same distances as cars/mass transit. It would also make sense if any urban area currently served by mass transit could be magically shrunk to make foot/pedal power enough for transportation needs.

    Point two is just a rehash of a typical Monetarist trope. Might as well get rid of public schools and public health to save money too. The market demands it.

    Point three is the most insidious. OK, democracy is messy. But how many democratic societies sincerely want bloated defense budgets and welfare for the rich? Yet money is allocated that way. Who sincerely sees mass transit as a waste of resources?

  23. Not to pick on you, but you’re doing a great job of inverting reality.

    Just because the US has a lot of land, it doesn’t mean sprawl is justified. Sprawl inherently uses more land, more water, and is worse for mass transit, and especially bad for pedestrian and bicyclists. These human powered modes of transportation are the most deleteriously impacted, as no one WANTS to walk or ride even farther.

    Sprawl allows lower pollution counts over each small area, but higher pollution overall, as more resources are expended.

    You also state that motorbikes were banned to help car access, and subway stats were the beneficiary. Even if the private car were banned, Chinese cities would still be filled with large, motorized vehicles–trucks, buses, etc. That’s THE essential point of a road network. Considering the large size of Chinese cities, their industrial concentration, and overall high densities, the roads are clogged with trucks, buses and other vehicles driven for utilitarian purposes.

  24. I agree. It’s a good thing we have a lot of land and our agricultural land is separate from our cities. We haven’t always made the best choices with those options. But at the end of the day, in a food-constrained world… the USA will probably be the best place to be if you don’t want to go hungry.

  25. > Yet you’ve spent multiple posts inveighing AGAINST Beijing’s efforts at providing a comprehensive transit system that benefits the vast majority of its population.

    That’s because their transit efforts seem to be motivated in large part by a desire to clear away as much space as possible for automobiles. It’s an auto-centric motivation that’s the REVERSE of what we see in the West when people build transit.

    > Bicycles aren’t a substitute for mass transit.

    They are if you also include e-bikes and mopeds. Take a look at Vietnam, Bangkok, Taiwan… places where most people get most places on two wheels. In Vietnam, authorities are having a hard time getting people to use the subway system because two-wheeled vehicles are faster, more convenient and quite affordable. Taipei depends heavily on e-bikes. And yet in China… they’re banning motorcycles and e-bikes while they rip out bike lanes, to be replaced with — wait — bus lanes? Streetcars? No…. AUTOMOBILE lanes. I don’t like that kind of authoritarian approach, while the car is becoming king in Chinese cities.

    > Ironically this site is focused on the US. You think cycling is a better/more plausible solution to America’s car-centric transportation system? How far can one cycle? How long is the average commute in the smallest American urban area?

    I agree, you won’t get very far on manual bicycles.

    52% of American commutes are under 10 miles, which is quite comfortable by e-bike. 2/3 of commutes are under 15 miles. I commute 15 miles by e-bike in NYC. All these commutes would be even easier by mopeds going up to 30mph.

    In Los Angeles, rush hour traffic speeds are SLOWER than the average speeds (15mph) I see on my e-bike in NYC. Think about it… Angelenos would get where they’re going faster if they all just rode e-bikes instead (this would reduce a LOT of congestion).

    > Ask long-time residents if they prefer cycling to taking a subway.

    In Vietnam, long-time residents prefer mopeds to taking the subway.

    > Ask residents of Manhattan if they’d want to return to an idealized pre-subway era of happy walking/cycling.

    There is no such thing. Walking and manual bikes are obsolete. A new generation of electric scooters and mopeds are the real future of urban transportation.

    I don’t think New Yorkers are particularly enjoying the subway these days…

    > Manhattan is geographically tiny, yet how many people would choose to cycle all but the shortest of distances?

    A lot, if they were on e-bikes and mopeds, and the streets were made to accommodate them comfortably. Because that would be a LOT faster than today’s subway.

    > Not everyone is physically able to ride a bicycle.

    But most are, especially if you include e-bikes and mopeds. Look around in the Netherlands…

    > Not every city has a bicycle friendly climate.

    If it’s warm enough to go skiing, it’s warm enough to ride a bike. I’m not sure what kind of weather you’re suggesting doesn’t work for two-wheeled transport. In any case, there is little correlation between climate and degree of bicycle penetration. There cold northern places like Copenhagan, most people ride bikes most of the time. And there are warm sunny-but-not-too-hot places like LA where nobody rides bikes.

  26. Somehow I don’t think you have been to ANY of the places mentioned.

    E-bikes are a huge deal in B-tier Chinese cities and the outlying/as yet undeserved areas of the large cities. E-bikes and the polluting mopeds have their pitall as well. Try crossing the road in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. Sure as hell not comfortable nor particularly safe.

    Their subways haven’t been finished. Might as well inform their city gov’t of your insight.

  27. Plus Guns baby. Post apocalypse ‘Merica ftw.

    Screw urban planning and those wasteful subways. You want individual transportation freedom and the constitutionally guaranteed right to pack heat.

  28. You really think I’m being apocalyptic? The USA grows about 5x as much food as it consumes. Compare to China, which cannot grow enough food to feed its population. Importing food is not the end of the world. But now consider that climate change could reduce agricultural output by 30% by 2100, even as world population continues to grow. Starvation of some is not out of the question; China had a famine in ~1960 that killed 45 million.

    >Screw urban planning and those wasteful subways. You want
    > individual transportation freedom and the constitutionally guaranteed
    > right to pack heat.

    Yes, I like individual transportation freedom. As long as that freedom does not come in a 2-ton package that maims and pollutes, what’s the problem with it? This thread is not about guns; and in fact, that is not something I support.

    For years, the Right has accused the Left of not just being anti-car, anti-pollution or anti-global warming; but of being anti-freedom. The claim has been that the Left wants everyone to ride public transportation because they fundamentally don’t like personal freedom. I always felt that claim was a little loony, and that there were good reasons to want fewer automobiles: less pollution, less congestion, less cost, more equitable transportation, etc. But now you seem to be falling right into that stereotype.

  29. > You also state that motorbikes were banned to help car access, and subway stats were the beneficiary.

    That’s right, that is what has happened. Do your research, read about it.

    I’d support the Chinese subway efforts a LOT more if they weren’t coupled with the banning of two-wheeled transport and destruction of bike lanes. Increasingly, the Car is King in China, with all the problems that entails — even though only a small fraction of Chinese actually drive. China is far too dense to every allow most people to drive. For that reason alone, recent automobile-first policies are inherently elitist, EVEN if they are coupled with subway construction.

    > Even if the private car were banned, Chinese cities would still be filled with large, motorized vehicles–trucks, buses, etc.

    Yes, just look at all the trucks and busses filling Beijing’s roads.

  30. > Why stop at Chinese cities? Go to Paris and proselytize your insight.

    No need to do that. Paris is promoting bicycles and e-bikes while continuing a strong investment in transit. China is promoting automobiles, hoping that a strong investment in transit will get people off their bikes and e-bikes.

    > E-bikes and the polluting mopeds have their pitfalls as well.

    ICE’s should be banned, including mopeds. Forward-looking cities (i.e. everywhere but the USA) are doing just that.
    We now have convenient, affordable electric alternatives to polluting mopeds — and automobiles too.

    > Try crossing the road in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.

    This is what traffic lights and traffic enforcement are for. In Taipei, the Scooter is King, with almost 50% mode share, plus 5.5% bicycle/e-bike mode share; and like Paris but unlike most Chinese cities, the government continues to roll out bike infrastructure and bike-friendly policies. I don’t hear horror stories about crossing the street in Taiwan.

  31. 30 mph e-bikes on non-stop bike infrastructure could be as fast as mass transit, perhaps even faster considering there’s no waiting time. You might need to build bike viaducts for non-stop travel in a crowded city, but the cost would be more than an order of magnitude less than building a subway. No reason you can’t have both, either. The more redundant a transit system is, the better.

  32. I really hope someone is paying you to write this.

    The whole “Chinese subways are uneconomical/anti-urban” is just another dumb trope promoted to distract from car-centric urban development here. I’ve seen it from countless developers and their political cronies here on the west coast. I’m not sure it’s convincing to anyone but the most gullible–LA’s various potential mass transit corridors would get huge patronage, but are delayed for mostly BS reasons.

    Why don’t you actually check out modal share in various cities? You do realize ICE motorcycles were banned in China, but e-bikes and bike sharing is popular? YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN THERE. Saying bikes have been expunged from China is laughable.

    Then you continue to LIE about low patronage of Vietnamese subways. They aren’t OPEN yet.

  33. Mass transit and car highways were built long before the Internet. My guess is if they hadn’t been built, we wouldn’t bother building them now because we would see the fallacy of having someone endure a long commute just to sit in front of a computer terminal to do a job which now can easily be done from home. I’m not saying all jobs can be done from home, but well over 50% can be. Management just needs to catch up to this fact. A lot of the rest of the jobs which can’t be are often low-skilled, and can just draw from the pool of people who live nearby. No sense commuting a long distance to a low-skilled shit job when one probably exists within walking or biking distance of wherever you live.

    Of course, there might still be some percentage of jobs where you need to be on site, but a high level of skill/education is required. These jobs might still require either long commutes, or better yet just build dormitories for staff. Hospitals come to mind here—a lot of skilled staff, jobs aren’t necessarily local to where there is housing. Only solutions are long commutes or having the staff live on-site, at least during the work week. The former solution is a much better one. The staff can still go home when they’re off. If you make their work week 3 longer days of 12-hour shifts instead of 5 shorter ones of 8-hour shifts, they get four days off at a time. You stagger the days off so the hospital has all positions covered all the time. More importantly, since the staff doesn’t have to endure a long commute on their work days, you avoid one ever present issue with hospital staff, namely fatigue.

    BTW, China is big on dormitories for workers, although this is mostly for factory work. Might not be a bad idea to expand that model and avoid the need to build a lot of expensive transit projects.

  34. Look up modal share. Funny, as I have ridden on e-bikes in Shanghai and Guangzhou.

    Or go there and castigate their subway patrons for being car-centric–Including the ones whose commutes include e-bikes for parts of the journey.

    You have never been there. Your argument is so illogical, you sound like any number of faux activists trotted out by developers and other vested interests. They view mass transit as a financial extravagance.

  35. Robotic labor is poised to make labor costs extremely low everywhere. That might put the dynamic in favor of big public works projects again. If you can build these things for basically the cost of raw materials, you might see subways even going out to inner ring suburbs.

  36. Name one large developed world urban area WITHOUT highways.

    You can’t. Use of the private car needs to die. But roads need to exist because various goods transport vehicles, buses, construction vehicles use them.

    Why are people still moving to large population areas? If your argument holds water, we could just live in hamlets.

    Oh great. More of that NEW URBAN BS about everyone working in a loft. The whole faux fight between fellow polemic issue (aka developer PR flaks) Duane and Calthorpe? I thought they were exposed as frauds once NU developments were just aesthetically cool sprawl burbs?

    Tell me, will an ox cart replace trucks? Will blimps replace concrete trucks?

  37. No, you just sound like a huge hypocrite.

    Complaining about subways as enabling the car is so disingenuous, it’s something promoted by oil companies and real estate developers.

    Might as well blame subway construction for financial crisis. Oh wait, you said that too. The Reason Institute agrees wholeheartedly with you.

  38. Start by disassembling Manhattan’s subway grid. Then tell the former commuters to hop on their bikes or relocate to a hamlet.

    Lol @you guys complaining about mass transit investment. That’s traditionally been the argument of right wing fiscall conservatives bankrolled by real estate and oil.

  39. Actually long term most people probably won’t be working at all once we transition to robotic labor. At that point travel is strictly optional. Of course, there are some issues to be dealt with when that happens, but something like a universal basic income would solve that. The income needn’t be in the form of money. It would just be a voucher entitling the person to some amount of robotically-produced goods and services. You could even phase it in as robots do more and more of the grunt work while humans do less and less.

    Nobody here knows how we’ll be moving goods and people in 50 or 100 years. It might be that most goods are delivered by autonomous drones. Or better yet, we might have the technology to manufacture goods on site from waste, getting rid of the need to transport most goods altogether.

  40. No need to dismantle what already exists. We just shouldn’t bother building new subways or highways in places where technology might soon make them obsolete. As things stand now, NYC’s subway is probably seeing its last days. Unless we completely automate it, it’s just gotten too expensive to operate and maintain. That wasn’t the case 50 or 100 years ago when labor was cheap. Although it’s obviously not a good thing for the worker, cheap or even slave labor is a good thing overall for society as it means more large infrastructure projects which benefit everyone. At least soon we can have the equivalent of slave labor using robots, but without all the humanitarian issues actual slavery causes.

  41. Now you really sound like the PR flaks.

    They’re the ones who have consistently delayed the LA subway. Great. We’ll be waiting for a utopian future while pissing away our lives, resources and generating pollutants because there is no actual alternative to the car in LA.

  42. The NY subway is a 60 billion a month asset to the city of New York. As in if it stopped running the city GDP would drop by 720 billion a year. Yes, it’s expensive to run, but it’s such a huge money maker it’s not going anywhere.

  43. You’re not seeing the big picture. If a subway already exists, then there’s probably no good reason to shut it down. If it doesn’t exist, the costs to build it now have gotten so ridiculous relative to the benefits that it doesn’t pay, at least here in the US. If we could build subways for what it costs elsewhere in the world, which $100 to $250 million per mile, then it’s probably a good investment. That’s doubly true if we run driverless trains like the French do to keep labor costs to the bare minimum. On the flip side, when subways cost well over $1 billion per mile, and cost a ton of money to run due to overstaffing with union labor, then I question if they’re worth it.

    Continuing with cars isn’t worth it, either, given the enormous cost of pollution, global warming, and foreign wars to secure oil supplies. That pretty much leaves surface transit like electric buses and e-bikes in places where subways don’t exist as an economically viable answer.

    So get the costs of building subways in the US down by a factor of 5 to 10 and they’ll be well worth it. I love subways. And they were even economically sensible back when we had cheap labor to build/operate them. For some reason the cost of all big infrastructure projects here in the US has skyrocketed. We need to fix that regardless or it means eventually becoming a Third World country.

  44. I hope so but it would be a lot less expensive to run without being overstaffed with overpaid labor. Also, the costs of past labor are an even bigger problem due to retroactive pension increases.

  45. In the future, education will be accomplished via brain implant. In the future, medical diagnosis and treatment will be done via a Star Trek like scan.

    With your logic, we should scale back all present day investment in education and medicine.

  46. So until work-replacing robots and widespread 3D printing arrives, we should neglect our cities?

    This is Reason foundation funded sci-fi

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


China Racing Past Competitors to Expand City Subways

More than 100 years ago, workers making next to nothing built New York City’s first subways using pick axes, dynamite, and steel wheelbarrows. At a recent trip to New York’s Transit Museum, I had to marvel at the exhibit “Steel, Stone and Backbone,” which details the conditions under which these workers labored and the shockingly […]

Looking Ahead to the Year in Transit Expansion

After significant transit construction in the United States in 2014, the next year will see another impressive round of groundbreakings and new openings. That’s according to Yonah Freemark at the Transport Politic, who has catalogued major transit expansion projects throughout the U.S. and Canada for the last six years. In 2015, we’ll see major light rail projects begin […]

Obama’s New Transportation Budget: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

With federal transportation funding on track to run dry by May 31, Washington lawmakers are gearing up again to reset national transportation policy… or, if that doesn’t work out, to limp along indefinitely under the status quo. Today President Obama unveiled his opening bid in this process. The $478-billion, six-year plan from the White House includes many […]

Federal Fast-Track Process Strips Transit Component From Tappan Zee

We reported yesterday that the Obama administration had selected 14 infrastructure projects, including five transportation projects, to put on the fast track for construction. We mentioned that there were early warnings from transit advocates that at least one of these projects might not go exactly as planned. Noah Kazis at Streetsblog NYC looked deeper into […]