Egypt and the U.S. unveil new groundwater system

Egypt and the U.S. unveil new groundwater system

Per Wikipedia, the U.S. had minimal dealings with Egypt when it was controlled by the Ottoman Empire (before 1882) and Britain (1882–1945).

President G A Nasser (1956–70) antagonized the U.S. by his pro-Soviet policies and anti-Israeli rhetoric, but the U.S. helped keep him in power by forcing Britain and France to immediately end their invasion in 1956. American policy has been to provide strong support to governments that supported U.S. and Israeli interests in the region, especially presidents Anwar Sadat (1970–81) and Hosni Mubarak (1981–2011).

Fast forward to Tuesday, March 5, 2019, and to this story of Egypt Today.

President Donald Trump and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi In White House (FNN) – photo from Youtube

Egypt, U.S. unveil new groundwater system in Alexandria

CAIRO – 5 March 2019: Egypt and the United States ‘governments unveiled Sunday finalizing the new groundwater lowering system at the Catacombs of Kom El-Shuqafa, Alexandria. 

In a Monday statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, it was stated that in support of Egypt’s vital tourism industry, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Thomas Goldberger joined Minister of Antiquities Khaledal-Anany and Alexandria Governor Abdul Aziz Qansua to celebrate the completion of a groundwater lowering system at the Catacombs of Kom El-Shuqafa on Sunday, March 3. 

“This site has rich cultural significance and has the potential to attract tourists and generate revenue,” Goldberger said, adding that the United States is committed to continuing the partnership with the Government of Egypt to conserve Egypt’s cultural heritage and increase tourism. 

The U.S. Government, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), contributed $5.7 million for a system to lower the groundwater level in partnership with the Ministry of Antiquities and the National Organization for Potable Water and Sanitary Drainage. The system preserves the site from erosion and enables tourists to access the lowest level of the Catacombs. 

Since 1995, the American people, through USAID, have provided $100 million in assistance to conserve monuments and masterpieces spanning over the full range of Egypt’s long cultural heritage – from Pharaonic times to the late Ottoman period. USAID-financed restoration and training programs helped ensure that Egypt can capitalize on the sector’s traditional role as an engine of economic growth and employment. 

Since 1978, the American people have invested $30 billion to further Egypt’s human and economic development. 

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Bahrain’s non-oil economy expanded in 2018

Bahrain’s non-oil economy expanded in 2018

Non-oil growth is on the up in Bahrain, where economic diversification efforts are under way.

The picture above is that of Manama sea front © Shutterstock

Construction, infrastructure fuel Bahrain’s 2.4% non-oil growth

by Oscar Rousseau 06 Feb 2019

Both sectors led the kingdom’s economy to diversified growth in Q3 2018, new government data shows

Bahrain’s non-oil economy expanded by 2.4% during Q3 2018, according to data from Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB).

Construction and infrastructure expansion played a prominent role in driving growth for the smallest economy in the GCC.

Bahrain is in the midst of a modernisation and economic diversification drive, as Gulf nations wean their economies off oil. The latest statistics from government agency EDB indicate efforts to create a diversified economy are showing signs of promise.

New project infrastructure spending increased by 16.3% year-on-year during the quarter, while exports surged 9% during the first nine months of 2018. Bahrain’s construction sector expanded by 6.2% between January and November 2018, with manufacturing up by 3.8%, and real estate and business deals rising by 3.2%.

EDB’s research was published in Bahrain Economic Quarterly, which stated that modest GDP growth was underpinned by construction, infrastructure, and manufacturing in the kingdom.

Megaprojects have played a major role as well in the last 12 months, with one such prominent scheme being Aluminium Bahrain’s (Alba) Line 6 Smelter, which was fired up in December 2018.

Alba has become the world’s largest aluminium smelter as a result of the Line 6 expansion.

Alba’s Line 6 expansion is one of Bahrain’s megaprojects.

Bahrain Petroleum Company’s modernisation drive, which includes expansion of Bahrain Refinery, is another scheme hailed for its positive impact.

These projects are known to create jobs and drive up investment during construction, and are expected to lead to long-term social and economic benefits. Bahrain is also seeing greater investment in technological modernisation and innovation, which is supporting productivity in the kingdom, according to the government agency’s research. 

Chief economist at EDB, Dr Jarmo Kotilaine, said fiscal rebalancing would boost investor confidence and continue to support the growth of Bahrain’s economy in the future.

“With increased economic uncertainty around the world and lower growth trends in the Middle East overall, Bahrain can expect to see resilient growth thanks to its commitment to diversification and sustainability,” he said.

“As the gateway to the Gulf region, it is unsurprising that investment is flowing into sectors such as construction, [information communications tech], and fintech, thanks to Bahrain’s strategically important location, its economic benefits, and ease of doing business.”

Revival of the Arab Maghreb Union

Revival of the Arab Maghreb Union

The Maghreb with 99,380,000 inhabitants with a $375.6 billion GDP in 2017 is in north-west Africa, as delimited to the north by the Mediterranean and to the south by the Sahara, in the west by the Atlantic Ocean and by Egypt in the East. A revival of the Arab Maghreb Union, despite its huge development potential and common cultural and linguistic ties, “the Maghreb is one of the least integrated regions in the world”. Studies have shown that the removal of barriers in the region could have significant economic benefits, support efforts to combat instability and help address several regional challenges including socio-economic development, combating climate change, protecting the environment and developing clean, sustainable energy.

Part 1 – Realities and perspectives

The total area of the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) is 5.8 million km², representing 4.3% of the world’s area and exceeding almost 80% of the area of the European Union is mostly desert. On February 17, 2018, the AMU celebrated its 30th birthday. At the end of November 2018, its Secretary-General was requested by Algeria to arrange a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers in order to revive the notion of a Maghreb together and the reactivation of its bodies. The purpose of the contribution that follows many international contributions on this subject is to draw up the balance sheet and look at prospects.

The Maghreb is confronted with the emergence of a globalised economy and society to numerous challenges.  On the one hand, the nation states have difficulties in coping with the world economy’s upheavals and on the other, to face the international institutions as a unified front.

Governments across the AMU’s nation-states per the current crisis are almost unable to fulfil their missions as a result of the complexity of modern societies and the emergence of the multitude of fragmented subsystems. The uncertainty feeds on the crisis of political representation, hence the need to integrate more into a larger ensemble in order to be able to respond to new global concerns is dragging on.  A centrepiece in the Euro-Mediterranean and African region, the Maghreb as the origin of the new migratory flows is fast becoming a geostrategic and economic issue for the European Union, the USA and China in the context of a competition.  Three countries of the UMA, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria have signed their “Euro-Mediterranean Association” agreements that go well beyond the simple trade liberalisation as initiated as early as the end of the years 1960 in the framework of the first Euro-Maghrebin trade agreements.  It is commonly acknowledged that the results of this association agreement are mixed. However, since then, we have a new data which is that of the Union for the Mediterranean which tends to be supplanted at present by the 5 + 5 Summit which enshrines economic cooperation and Maghreb integration as a priority.  This principle of economic integration (by the market) of the Maghreb countries, the idea came during the two conferences of ministers of the economy of the Maghreb, the first on 26 September 1964 and the second on 26 November of the same year in Tangier (Morocco).  These two conferences culminated in the establishment of the Maghreb Consultative Standing Committee (MCSC).  It is responsible for studying all problems associated with economic cooperation between the North African countries.  After three years of trials and errors, the Maghreb community issue is precise, and in 1967, the MCSC produced a report in which three types of solutions were put forward from the integrationist perspective.  These are:

  • The maximum resolution would imply the signature of a treaty establishing the Maghreb Economic Union on the model of the Treaty of Rome. It would mean the fixing of a timetable for the elimination of customs duties and quota restrictions, establishment of a standard exterior tariff, harmonisation of economic, fiscal and monetary policies and finally the establishment of joint institutions with decision-making powers;
  • The minimum solution which would make the gradual creation of an economic union a mere declaration of intent, the only legal commitments limited to the periodic participation in negotiations on tariff concessions or the choice of places of new industries;
  • The intermediate solution based on the interaction between trade liberalisation and technical harmonisation should cover a period of 5 years during which the Maghreb countries would commit: too linear reductions (10% for example per annum) of customs duties and quantitative restrictions on traded products, to the establishment of a list of industries to be approved and whose products would be guaranteed free movement and franchising on the Maghreb market, the creation of a Maghreb integration bank to finance projects of common interest and promote this simultaneous and equitable industrialisation, the possible establishment of a union of payments and finally the harmonisation of their trade policies with regard to third countries in order not to jeopardize later the establishment of a standard external tariff system.

The set of principal axes highlighted previously, were taken up at the Maghreb Summit, which was held in Zéralda (Algeria) in 1988 and the second Maghreb Summit held on 19 February 1989 in Marrakech, saw the adoption of the Treaty of the U. M. A. which defines the modalities of a Maghreb construction and its development strategy. Various sectoral committees have worked very cyclically to try to establish a free trade area gradually, assuming the free movement of products between the partners — a customs union and therefore new standard management instruments such as the unification of tariffs and the elaboration of unified policies, aiming at defining the usual rules to enable the implementation of a regulatory system economic development in the region. The objective to be achieved at these summits as a last resort was to establish a common market and a progressive and comprehensive economic unit, a prelude to the best complementarity between the five countries in the region. The declaration of the Heads of State on the establishment of the AMU, adopted at the Marrakech summit, marks for its part the will of the member countries to translate into reality the dream of the Maghreb’s generations to build a viable union. It can be seen in their declaration that it should be perceived as “a complementary community that cooperates with similar regional institutions, a community that participates in the enrichment of dialogue and putting its potential at the service of strengthening the independence of the States parties of the Union and safeguarding their achievements, working with the international community to establish a world order in which justice, dignity, freedom, human rights and where relations are imbued with sincere cooperation and mutual respect.

Professor of universities and international expert, Dr Abderrahmane Mebtoul, ademmebtoul@gmail.com

Thorough Reviews of proposed Capital Projects

Thorough Reviews of proposed Capital Projects

Governments in developing economies often lack the capacity to conduct thorough reviews of proposed capital projects. A streamlined approach can identify those ready for funding. 

By Rima Assi, Nicklas Garemo, and Arno Heinrich studying an issue of vital importance for all developing countries, came up with the following essay.

They addressed the most likely to be affected which are the oil-exporting countries of the MENA region as impacted by the volatility of their earning capacities.  In the recent past, and before 2014, when free-flowing budgets allowed development without such restrictive measures, governments that get about 90 per cent of their revenue from oil exports did not bother about such issues. However plunging oil prices could mean budget cuts for major exporters like the GCC countries, but these are not expected to be large enough to stop growth, hence the need still of what is proposed by Mckinsey’s people here.

How developing economies can get more out of their infrastructure budgets

In developed economies, policies and practices for balancing diverging interests in public infrastructure spending are well established. South Korea, for example, established the Public and Private Infrastructure Investment Management Center in 1999 to conduct feasibility studies on large public investments and expanded its mandate to include appraising and managing public–private infrastructure partnerships in 2005. Since then, the center has reduced project overruns by 82 percentage points. Similar units include the United Kingdom’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority, Germany’s Bundesrechnungshof, and Australia’s Infrastructure Australia.

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But in developing markets, many governments have yet to build a capacity for conducting extended project reviews and feasibility studies, because talent is scarce or internal priorities conflict. As a result, these governments often end up funding ill-prepared, poorly designed capital projects, whose scope often diverges from real demand. Overlaps between projects are not uncommon—and actual project costs often exceed forecasts. In fact, nearly 40 percent of the money devoted to global investments around the world is spent ineffectively as a result of bottlenecks, a failure to innovate, or market failures. In developing economies, these ineffective expenditures amount to over $1 trillion a year.

It may be too much to ask that every proposal get a full-scale, in-depth evaluation that takes months to complete. Even in developed markets, that’s not always possible. But it is possible for finance ministries to conduct more streamlined financial assessments of the preparedness and design of projects in only days or weeks. Indeed, we have seen developing countries in the Middle East and Africa embark on such programs by adapting centralized control units and the required level of governance to their own circumstances.

The initial assessment of project preparedness

As a first step, a government must ensure that all projects have been thought through at a sufficient level of detail. This may sound obvious, but projects that fail to describe their rationale properly, don’t evaluate alternative solutions, or lack detailed budget plans are hardly uncommon. What’s more, implementing ministries often lack strong capabilities in project planning, and rely instead on the private-sector organizations that design and implement such projects to review their own work. The resulting incentive structures, far from optimizing costs, tend to inflate the scope and specifications of these projects. 

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When the finance ministry in one African country reviewed proposals to build new roads, for example, it found a number of them significantly exceeded benchmark costs—often coming from design firms that consistently produced designs with higher costs. When a more thorough evaluation isn’t feasible, a streamlined one- or two-day review can help. Typically, an oversight body would pose a series of straightforward questions assessing how clearly a problem is defined, along with a capacity and demand analysis and a consideration of alternative solutions. This kind of evaluation would examine a proposal’s financial aspects, like planned budgets and cash-flow requirements. It would also probe the operational elements: a realistic implementation plan, compliance with regulatory requirements, and interdependencies and overlaps with other projects. Knowing that it lacks this capability, the government of the country in the example is now setting up an in-house unit to oversee contracts with design companies and challenge their products.

The impact can be considerable. One government in another developing economy took this approach with more than 250 projects in its portfolio and found that only a quarter of them were adequately prepared. Most frequently, project owners failed to quantify the capacity–demand analysis and alternative ways of meeting future demand. As a result, they were granted only enough of their requested budget to conduct studies to increase their preparedness.

A deeper review of project design

Once the initial assessment—often of hundreds of projects—narrows down the pool, finance ministries can conduct a more thorough review of each project’s overall design. That, too, can be streamlined. The finance ministry of the country in the example developed a way to conduct reviews that lasted just two weeks. In that time, it identified opportunities to reduce costs by an average of 20 to 40 percent, without reducing outputs. During the reviews, which will now be a standard part of the annual budgeting process, the cost-review unit of the finance ministry met with owners of projects and tested their design through a series of questions aligned with the initial assessment exercise above. These included the following:

  • ·         Public priorities. Does the scope of a project focus on services and features that people really want? Is there evidence that the project is truly needed and meets the country’s socioeconomic objectives?
  • ·         Capacity and demand. Does capacity match future demand? Are the expectations for demand realistic? Can alternative solutions reduce demand?
  • ·         Costs. Do unit costs reflect benchmark levels? Can costs be cut by adjusting a project’s time frame (to reduce the need for tight deadlines) or by calibrating the schedule to the availability of capital?
  • ·         Productivity. Could existing assets improve operations?
  • ·         Funding. Are the funding requirements realistic? Are there any opportunities for private-sector funding? Will the assets generate revenues that could fund the project? Can implementation be deferred or slowed down to stretch out the need for funding?

These project reviews can be significant: a two-week review of a public convention complex, for example, identified $1.7 billion in potential savings (Exhibit 1). Elsewhere, one ministry of health’s $300 million request for additional beds for intensive-care units (ICUs) was nearly halved after reviewers considered benchmark utilization data. They found that the proposal’s assumptions about the average length of stay per ICU bed were twice as high as the benchmark, mainly because facilities lacked intermediate beds and had nowhere to send discharged patients. As result, the ministry of health was advised to procure lower-cost intermediate beds and fewer ICU ones.

Exhibit 1

A two-week capital-expenditure review of a public convention complex identified $1.7 billion in savings.

 

Or consider a proposal by another country’s housing ministry to develop affordable housing. In-depth reviews found that the proposed design included features—such as skylights, longer driveways, and larger bedrooms—that increased costs but would not necessarily be valued by residents. The optimized design featured more bathrooms, but (unlike the original proposal) with showers instead of tubs; more but smaller bedrooms; and shorter driveways with less internal parking. These homes were better aligned with the expectations of likely residents, but cost 15 percent less—so the ministry could build more homes on its $4 billion total budget.

 

 

 

 

Why did the Genoa bridge collapse?

Why did the Genoa bridge collapse?

Genoa motorway bridge collapse 4 days ago was a catastrophic one, creating a scene, rescuers compared to the aftermath of an earthquake. Italy declared a State of emergency while agreeing that the collapse of the Morandi Bridge was an “immense tragedy”.

Why did the Genoa bridge collapse?
Engineering experts were immediately in the limelight weighing in each one with explanations but are too soon to know why a bridge of that calibre collapsed. Satellite images revealing the extent of the devastation after the shocking collapse as it happened, have made it, as it were worse, i.e. while in use by vehicles.
The Economist Construction technology on August 18th, 2018, in its Print edition of Science and technology proposed this article after the disastrous collapse of the Genoa Morandi Bridge last Tuesday.

Crumbling infrastructure is a worldwide problem

A bridge too far

 

The first bridges were likely to have been built by early man shoving a fallen tree across a stream. Since then, construction techniques have come on a bit—from wood to stone, wrought iron and then steel. In the 20th century, reinforced concrete appeared. Concrete is an immensely strong material, especially when coupled with steel. But the sudden collapse of the Morandi bridge in Genoa this week (pictured), with a tragic loss of life, adds to the concern of civil engineers that many bridges around the world which use reinforced concrete are deteriorating faster than was expected.

The Genoa bridge is based on a design called a cable-stayed bridge, although it is a somewhat unusual variant. Such a bridge uses one or more towers, from which run cables that support the deck of the bridge. This is different from a suspension bridge, such as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, in which the cables holding up the deck are suspended vertically from a main cable anchored at either end of the bridge. Cable-stayed bridges are widely used, mainly for spans shorter than those crossed in one go by a suspension bridge.

A familiar feature of a cable-stayed bridge is that the cables form a fan-like pattern emanating from the supporting tower. If one of the cables is damaged or breaks, it should be obvious; the loading on the bridge is calculated so that the remaining cables will be capable of holding the structure up. The Morandi bridge is different because it was supported by pre-stressed concrete tendons. The tendons are made from bundles of steel wires tightened to produce compressive strength and then encased in concrete. The bridge was designed by Riccardo Morandi, a proponent of this type of bridge. Only a few have been built around the world.

Concerns about Genoa’s bridge had been raised in the past. The Italian media has reported that in 2016, Antonio Brencich, a specialist in reinforced concrete at the University of Genoa, described the bridge as a “failure of engineering” and that sooner or later it would have to be replaced. Daniele Zonta, a civil-engineering expert at the University of Strathclyde, in Britain, says that since the opening of the bridge in 1967 the tendons have required continuous monitoring and maintenance.

Although the design of the bridge is unusual, it is much too early to say if that played any fundamental part in the collapse. And in other respects, the Morandi bridge is far from atypical. All around the world bridges built long ago, particularly those using reinforced concrete, are deteriorating. Even back in 1999, a study found that around 30% of road bridges in Europe had some sort of defect, particularly corrosion of their steel reinforcing or pre-stressed tendons.

A report from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association in January is even more sobering. It reckoned that 54,259 of that country’s 612,677 bridges are “structurally deficient”. These problem bridges have an average age of 67 years and are crossed by vehicles 174m times every day. At the present rate of repair and replacement, it will take 37 years to remedy all the problems, says Alison Premo Black, the organisation’s chief economist.

What is going wrong with these bridges? The difficulty is that concrete, or rather the steel used to reinforce it, can fail in a number of ways. Salt, ice and the pounding of weather can cause tiny fractures in the concrete’s surface. As these cracks creep inward, they let in water. Once the water reaches the steel reinforcing or tendons, it corrodes them. This enlarges the cracks, which can cause the concrete to fall apart. That this is happening is evident from rusty streaks on crumbling concrete.

Heavy traffic

Other factors compound the deterioration of bridges, such as a constant cyclic vibration from traffic, says Mehdi Kashani, an expert in structural mechanics at the University of Southampton, in Britain. This is troublesome for bridges designed in the 1960s, when traffic flows were lower, cars were smaller and lorries much lighter. On top of that, extreme weather can take a toll, with heat and cold expanding and contracting the structure, floods eroding away foundations and high winds buffeting the bridge. This is why regular inspections and maintenance are essential.

New methods of monitoring structures are available to help engineers spot problems before they become critical. Instead of the arduous task of climbing up bridges or erecting scaffolding, camera drones can easily take a close-up picture of just about any part of a bridge. Electronic sensors can provide regular readings of any movement in the structure. And laser scanners are capable of picking up fine details and displaying them as a three-dimensional image. All this should help, but only if regimes exist to ensure that careful monitoring and preventive maintenance take place. If such tasks are skipped, for whatever reason, the result could be disaster. “The Genoa bridge is not the first to fall down,” says Dr Kashani. “And unfortunately it will not be the last.”

Repair or replace?

Monitoring and repair are not the only options. When bridges were being built in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, many were expected to last for more than 100 years. But the decay of reinforced concrete leads some civil engineers to think that such bridges may have a life of only 50-60 years. That means thousands of bridges are coming to the end of their days. Refurbishment is possible, but it is slow and very costly. It might end up being more expensive than building a new bridge.

New structures can also take advantage of advances in engineering. There has been huge progress in materials science, so much so that it is now possible to tinker with the internal structure of substances to make concrete more robust and steel better at resisting rust. Ultra-high-performance concrete is already being made in some countries to toughen buildings against such things as earthquakes and bombs. Apart from just sand and cement, other ingredients are added to these super concretes, such as quartz and various reinforcing materials. In some tests, the addition of plant fibres has been shown to produce markedly stronger concrete.

Self-healing concrete is also being explored. Different methods can be used, but the basic idea is that, should cracks appear in the surface, they will trigger a chemical reaction that seals them up again.

Wholesale replacement of elderly bridges would be an expensive exercise, however. The Governor Mario M Cuomo Bridge, which opened as a replacement for the old Tappan Zee Bridge which crosses the Hudson River in New York, is expected to become fully operational later this year. It is also a cable-stayed bridge, but one of a more traditional design. It is expected to cost some $4bn. The old bridge, built largely from steel and concrete in the 1950s, was knocked up for some $60m, which in today’s terms would be a bargain $564m. The Tappan Zee Bridge was predicted to have a lifetime of only 50 years; it managed nearly 62. Its replacement is supposed to last for a century. Time will tell.

Can Chinese cities leave the car behind?

Can Chinese cities leave the car behind?

Encouraging bicycles and investing in public transport are just some of the ways Chinese cities are trying to minimise car use Photo credit: chuyu. But can Chinese cities leave the car behind? Let us read Liu Shaokun.

For years, Chinese city planners have prioritised cars, but they’re now taking a different route, writes Liu Shaokun.

Plagued by congestion and air pollution, China’s cities are exploring models of transportation that are more sustainable in terms of their social, environmental and climate impacts. Some have emerged as global leaders, such as Hangzhou, south-west of Shanghai, which in 2017 won an international award for its municipal bike sharing scheme. More recently Shenzhen, a major city north of Hong Kong, electrified its entire fleet of public buses, gaining worldwide recognition.

Over the past 40 years, China has undergone rapid urbanisation. In the 1980s, the one-time “kingdom of the bicycle” saw economic reforms and the transition to motorised transportation. The country is now shifting again, this time towards modern, sustainable transportation. Today, you can use your mobile phone to unlock a shared bike, ride it along with a dedicated cycle path to the nearest Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) station, park the bike and ride on to your next destination. Such journeys are already an everyday occurrence in many Chinese cities.

As the world’s largest developing nation, China’s experience of large-scale experiments with transport and implementation are of huge value to other developing countries.

Urban rail and bus rapid transit: A response to rapid motorisation

China started large-scale construction of urban rail and bus rapid transit options in 2004. By the third quarter of 2017, 29 Chinese cities had some form of urban rail (defined as subways, light-rail, monorail and automated people movers, or APMs), with 118 lines stretching a total of 3,862 kilometres and carrying 17.68 billion passengers per year.

Urban rail systems in Shanghai and Beijing are longer than London’s and busier than those of New York and Paris. Urban rail in some Chinese cities accounts for about half of all public transport journeys.

But rail transit is expensive. The World Bank recommends developing nations adopt the medium-capacity and bus-based BRT model – an approach also welcomed by China’s city bosses. The design of Beijing’s BRT system, launched in 2005, drew on the experiences of Latin American countries such as Brazil’s dedicated “corridors”, separate lanes specifically for BRT buses; enclosed stations; fast and frequent services; off-board fare collection; and good information for passengers. As of early 2018, 32 Chinese cities have BRT systems, with over ten more cities planning, designing or building them. The BRT system in Curitiba, southern Brazil, was a major influence on the early designs of China’s own BRT systems.

In the early days, China’s application of Latin American BRT systems experienced some problems around integration with existing bus routes, and designs had to be adjusted to make them more appropriate for the specific structural needs of Chinese cities. China had a larger number of existing bus routes running along BRT corridors, meaning the impacts of the new lanes was limited. Whereas in Curitiba, the dedicated system only allowed a small number of routes to run along the corridor.

In 2009, Guangzhou province implemented a “dedicated corridor and flexible routes” model, allowing non-BRT buses to use the corridor, and BRT routes to operate outside it, which improved travel times.

Guangzhou’s BRT system also has a transport corridor, which fully combines different forms of transport. The corridor can handle 28,000 passengers per hour in peak direction – more than most subways and more than any light rail system worldwide. In 2011 the Guangzhou BRT system won the Sustainable Transport Award and the UN Lighthouse Award.

A BRT station in Jiangsu province, China. Photo credit: Conny Hetting 2012.

A people-centred street revolution

In response to the damage done by motorised transport to urban mobility, air quality and health, Chinese cities have started remoulding urban spaces. When it comes to design, there is a greater focus on how people interact and live.

When it comes to design, there is a greater focus on how people interact and live .

In 2016, Shanghai published the seminal Shanghai Street Design Guide, which signalled a shift in core urban design values away from cars and towards people. The guide emphasised walking and cycling – a previously overlooked consideration – and a reduction of space for vehicles. This aimed to prioritise slower forms of transport, providing space for pedestrians and ensuring the free flow of bicycles, in order to create a more pleasant and convenient environment.

Alongside Shanghai and Guangzhou, dozens of other cities including Wuhan and Nanjing began working on their own guides to urban street design. More and more cities are joining the revolution.

The Guangzhou Comprehensive Street Design Handbook tested turns of 4m, 5m, 8m, 10m and 12m radius with cars, 9-metre buses and 12-metre buses. Photo credit: Guangzhou City Planning Design and Research Institute.

Embracing innovation: the electric bicycle and shared bike schemes

As China continues to urbanise, commuters need new forms of transport. Electric bicycles and the more recent shared bike schemes, pioneered by brands including Ofo and Mobike, have swept the nation. They have met the public need for both speed and convenience. But the influx of bikes has also been blamed for clogging up pavements and roadsides and causing a public nuisance.

By 2014, China had over 200 million electric bicycles, which represented the main form of transport for countless households. As of May 2015, over 10 million bikes had been placed around Chinese cities as part of shared bike schemes, with over 100 million registered users making over one billion trips. This has saved large amounts of carbon emissions, private companies and governments claim.

Electric bicycles do not directly produce any pollutants, they take up little space on roads and are suitable for short and medium-length journeys. They are faster than conventional bicycles, less tiring to ride, and reasonably cheap. The ability to rent and park shared bikes with few restrictions has encouraged their use in cities. The electric bicycle is an excellent option in cities with underdeveloped public transport systems, while shared bikes can help cover the “last mile” problem – the last leg of a journey, between a transport hub or connecting stop, and home – in instances where public transport is insufficient, replacing short-distance car journeys.

Data from bike-sharing firm Mobike shows that 81% of Beijing’s shared bikes are used around public transportation stops. The figure rises to 90% in Shanghai.

A first-quarter 2017 transportation report from mapping firm AutoNavi found the number of car journeys of five kilometres or less falling since shared bikes became available. Both Shanghai and Beijing saw drops of 5%.

Chinese cities have had to adapt quickly to the boom in shared bikes, including careless parking and dumping. Photo credit: Slices of Light.

But these rapidly developing forms of transport present city planners with challenges. Electric bikes are relatively fast and their numbers are rapidly increasing but they have become a major cause of traffic accidents. Between 2013 and 2017 there were 56,200 accidents caused by electric bicycles resulting in death or injury in China, with 8,431 people killed and 63,500 injured. The biggest issue with shared bikes, meanwhile, is inconsiderate parking, the underlying cause of which is a lack of infrastructure and a long-standing failure to legislate for bicycle use.

So these new forms of transport often come into conflict with city managers. However, the government is gaining valuable experience as it attempts to design policies for their use. For example, China initially limited the speed and weight of electric bicycles, a controversial move with the public. Some local governments simply banned or limited their use.

These attempts eventually led to the “Nanning model”, named after the city in the southern Guangxi province near the border with Vietnam, which abandoned outright bans in favour of optimising traffic signals, improving signage and road safety education. This enabled the city and the electric bicycle to co-exist.

Similarly, the central government has issued regulations to guide the rapid uptake of shared bike schemes in an effort to steer, rather than stop, their growth. Some cities have also started to improve and expand infrastructure such as bike lanes to boost “bike-friendliness.”

On more Lessons from China’s experience, read the full Analysis: Can Chinese cities leave the car behind?