Rebuilding America versus building China

America needs a new FDR

An immense program was started by then U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to revive the country, rebuilding America. Since then nothing much happened. President Obama was blocked in Congress to rebuild the crumbling infrastructure, “to limit government spending, public debt and federal budget deficits”. Then people blamed him for not doing anything.
The next president promises to spend US$ 1 trillion to repair the infrastructure. That probably is far from enough. How he will get the money (while lowering taxes!) is a wild guess.
See the excellent overview on America’s needs here:
Trump-Size Idea for a New President: Build Something Inspiring
By JAMES B. STEWART, 17 November 2016

See an extract:

Can anyone name even one infrastructure project from President Obama’s $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act? I didn’t think so.
In fairness to Mr. Obama, Republicans in Congress bitterly opposed his public works spending plans, and he lamented there were too few “shovel ready” projects.
That didn’t stop Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His Public Works Administration and Works Progress Administration, using combinations of public and private money, solicited proposals from states and cities, hired millions of workers and eventually built 78,000 bridges, 650,000 miles of roads, 700 miles of airport runways, 13,000 playgrounds and 125,000 military and civilian buildings, including more than 40,000 schools — in most cases to high standards of quality and design.

Then there is China

When travelling from China to the USA we note the difference: modern and imposing Chinese airports versus decrepit American ones, a real shame for a “world economic giant”. Again, those Chinese airports are not for prestige: they are usually packed. Reason I avoid cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles. Detroit and Indianapolis are a pleasure on the contrary. Not even to mention the many new railway stations in China that look like international airports.


See the 2020 plan for Beijing subways. When I arrived in Beijing in 1980 there were only two lines with old subway trains. Beijing will construct 12 subway lines in the coming five years: the Beijing Rail Transportation Construction Plan (2014-2020) calls for six new subways lines and extensions to six existing ones. The Beijing Subway is expected to reach 1,000 km by the end of 2020.
While at times cities like New York need a century to build one subway line, Beijing builds new subways every year. They are modern, efficient, fast and filled to capacity, demonstrating they are much needed.
China has been accused to waste money to build highways to nowhere and high-speed trains that nobody uses.
Those critics have never been to China it seems, and are clueless about economy.


The high-speed trains are often at full capacity and are now competing with air travel. In 2016, 2.77 billion trips were made on the country’s railroads including 1.44 billion trips by high-speed trains.
At the end of 2016 China’s rail system had a length of 124,000 km including 22,000 km of high-speed rail.
The new and immense network of highways, bridges, tunnels and railways have opened central and West China, changing demographics. It now makes sense for the migrants to return to their cities and for industry to relocate away from East and South China.
In the next five years, China will invest 3.5 trillion yuan ($503 billion) to accelerate railway construction, including expansion of the country’s high-speed rail network to 30,000 km.
Good infrastructure is a must to have an efficient industry, reduce travel and transportation time and combat pollution. Overall, China did a pretty good job, despite some shortcomings.

Greener Beijing, there is some hope

The number of cars is increasing in China. Figures published in July 2016: In China the total number of cars now 184 million, with 135 million private cars. Driving license total 296 million. Beijing: 5.44 million cars.

Rumors go around of more traffic restrictions in Beijing as well as road fees to enter the center of the city (“congestion fees”). Another much more controversial plan – being carried out – is to simply lower the city population by making life difficult and expensive for migrants. In my opinion, unsustainable as it is chasing away all the people providing services.

China Daily on 3 September 2016 published the following data on Beijing, see:


Some of the figures:
– 2015 population 21.71 million
– 2015 registered vehicles: 5.62 million (notice, as usual, the difference with the figure above!)
– metro lines: 2015 554 Km – 2020 1,000 Km
– evolution of PM2.5 and “good air days”

In July China Daily also published the sources of PM2.5 in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei:


That is in line with my assessment that pollution in Beijing is roughly: one third cars / one third local industry / one third coming from the outside.
Coordination between areas has grown into a major issue in the fight against air pollution, especially in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region.
Beijing has set an air pollution reduction target for PM2.5 at 60 micrograms per cubic meter by 2017. The city averaged 80.9 micrograms in 2015, suggesting the target will be hard to reach.
See the full article here:
12 July 2016 – Lots of bad air blows in from elsewhere
China Daily article

Beijing now has 68,000 public bicycles, and some new models. The city has also launched an app to provide real-time location data, nearby rental stations, number of available bikes etc. The rental bikes were launched in 2012 and I see more and more on the road.

Biking in Beijing, the future and now

Recently I had a Q&A session in Beida on the subject, see:

While the city of Beijing has indeed made some progress, like increasing the amount of bikes for rent, coming out with new models, as well as modestly making better biking lanes, a lot remains to be done.
China Daily explained some of the recent trends:
7 September 2016 – Bicycles on a roll again
China Daily article

The point is that a new wave of consumers choses biking as a new fashion statement, buying expensive models. They want to look “cool” while bikes are mostly regarded as for people who really have little or no money. Explains why the number of bikes seems still to go down but the market size of the industry shows a strong growth.
Companies like Natooke (Iness Brunn and her fixed gear bikes) are the nice symptoms: she has attracted a lot of attention. Others are going the bamboo way. Another custom-made shop I I know is making 40,000 RMB bikes, high-tech alloys.

See here NATOOKE:
Touring Wudaoying Hutong in Beijing

And this article:

Here a picture of a bike I saw in Sanlitun, I even had to look it up and yes, a Land Rover bike does exist! Could not figure out the model, they are on sale online. Not clear if this one has “assisted pedal power”.


But even “e-scooters”, meaning here the real big ones, are also finding a new niche through their superior power and technology: a bit like the e-version of a Harley Davidson. EVOKE is such a company. Their bike was displayed in our Rotaract Gala evening a few months ago, see:
“Rotaract Gala Event: see what you missed!”
The EVOKE bike:

The China Daily article:
7 September 2016 – Putting power and pizazz into bikes
China Daily article

Many call for increased use of bikes. Much in line with what I preach is in this China Daily article:
5 July 2016 – A short ride to clean, better life and future
China Daily article

It says:
Beijing is spending about 30 million yuan this year to improve the capital’s sidewalks and bicycle lanes, and keep them free of motor vehicles.
The Beijing municipal government is trying to ease traffic jams by imposing congestion fees on drivers. Since many are opposed to the move, the Beijing authorities should encourage more people to ride bicycles, because it is the best way to reduce the use of cars.
Urban planners in cities like Beijing want to emulate other cities that have admirable biking policies. A survey of the top 20 cities with the best bike systems shows Europe as the leader, with Japan as the runner-up. Beijing and other North China cities didn’t fare well in the rankings, even though China is known as a bicycle-friendly country.
But cities in North China cannot use cold weather as an excuse to turn their back on bikes, because 30 percent of urban Scandinavians ride to work through winter.

And as for me, hot or cold, sun or rain, I am on my bike in Beijing


More sports for the old – and the young

“Sport for all: China’s plan to cope with ageing society”
See the article 24 June 2016 in SCMP:

“It is a shift in mindset as encouraging exercise is seen not only as a route to Olympic glory, but to a healthier and economically more productive nation.”
Not only seniors need more exercise, the young people are becoming more and more obese (and with bad eyesight).
Still sports are not so popular as parents do not encourage their kids to participate: they should just keep to studies, 7/7. As a result sports such as soccer, rugby and other fail to take off. Just pumping money in soccer is not enough.
Seniors are actually often exemplary as they do exercise on the streets and I see grannies coming back on their bikes, loaded with vegetables bought on the market.
I normally only use bicycle (or subway) in Beijing but as I have said publicly, riding a bike is tough with the traffic chaos and the total lack of enforcement of traffic rules, a sad joke.

See my comment on SCMP:
First China needs to change its typical “face problem” and jump on a bike or walk instead of taking the car. I am told it is “loss of face” to go to an important meeting on a bike, or to visit a 5-star hotel. I ignore it completely but most Chinese have this (stupid) issue, while even ministers in Europe use a bike. Then obviously we also need traffic police in a city like Beijing, to enforce the traffic rules. Now they are non-existent and totally useless. On the other hand hold up a protest sign and in 10 sec ten security people jump on you.

At the same time, while schools are trying to promote sports, there are wide-spread reports of toxic running tracks and fake grass making children sick, as reported also in the mainland media. In China anything goes to make quick money and purchasing methods are often riddled with shady deals and total lack of oversight. As I always say, don’t mess with kids because Chinese parents cherish their children and become ferocious if one tries to harm them.

See more about this:
“China halts construction of synthetic running tracks in schools after report alleges some were made using industrial waste”

Children have also fallen sick, with tests confirming some tracks and playgrounds contain high-levels of noxious chemicals.
And, in China Daily 23 June 2016:
“School’s artificial grass found to be highly toxic”.
“Kindergarten sued over running tracks”.