Less than ten years ago, bicycles still ruled the streets of Kunming. Today almost any place in the city is susceptible to serious congestion and traffic jams. In 2000 the Yunnan Daily ran this assessment of Kunming's traffic situation:
"In general, traffic in downtown Kunming cannot be considered congested. The roads are relatively wide and expansive and quite clean. But during the morning and afternoon rush hours, the phenomenon of traffic congestion occasionally arises."
Today, as the Yunnan Daily notes, the streets of Kunming - which covers an area of 200 square kilometers - are choking on the nearly 700,000 motorized vehicles in the city.
The Kunming Municipal Planning and Design Research Institute (昆明市规划设计研究院) has released a list of road projects intended to ameliorate the worsening congestion in certain 'hot areas' in Kunming. Work on the projects is scheduled to commence by the end of this month. Here's a breakdown of some of the projects that are expected to start soon:
Current State: Perhaps best known for its wide variety of Chinese and international-themed restaurants (Indian, Korean, Japanese, American, Vietnamese, etc), Wenhua Xiang - literally 'Culture Alley' in Chinese - is also home to numerous clothing and crafts stores.
Busy day and night, Wenhua Xiang is a traffic nightmare, with a narrow alley serving as a two-way street - often leading to standoffs between cars that meet in the alley with no way to get around each other. Wenhua Xiang also connects Yieryi Da Jie with Wenlin Jie and is an access road for some of Kunming's most important schools including Yunnan University, Yunnan Normal University Affiliated Middle School and Kunming Experimental Middle School.
Proposed Solution: The overhead power lines crisscrossing Wenhua Xiang will be buried underground, which will require tearing up the alley between the PSB and Wenlin Jie. A pedestrian pathway shall be created and more than 1,150 square meters of two-story commercial space shall be demolished. Although no specific demolition sites are mentioned, it would appear that this means the stretch of space including Bangkok Café, Watami, Yunjoy and other restaurants and stores.
Current State: Congested by car and bicycle traffic, Xinwen Lu ranges from five to eight meters wide. Add the numerous commercial stalls in certain sections and cars parking on both sides of the street and the result is a road that is often simply impassable.
Proposed Solution: Xinwen Lu will be widened to a maximum of 20 meters - the bridge crossing the Daguan River will also be widened. Xinwen Lu and Daguan Lu will be converted into complementary one-way streets passing through both ring roads. The objective of these measures is to ease traffic flow in and out of the southwest of Kunming especially on Dianchi Lu.
• Streets and alleys around the Daguan Commercial Building - including Jiahua Xiang, Qingfeng Jie and Xi'an Ma Lu - will all be renovated and widened to ease congestion in the area as well as the intersection of Xichang Lu and Renmin Xi Lu.
• Danxia Lu and Liangyuan Lu will be widened and connected, eliminating a major dead end in the city's west.
• Xihua Bei Lu and Xiba Lu will be connected and widened to 30 meters. Pedestrian lanes, green space and parking spaces will also be added.
• Jinhuapu Lu will be extended to Daguan Lu, with both roads widened near the connecting segment.
It's interesting that all of the proposed solutions do not mention the single most prevalent problem: incompetent, careless and illegal driving and parking. The solution to this is complex: 1. Rigorous driver training including retraining the completely recklesss and incompetent driving teachers 2. Training the police to actually enforce existing driving and parking regulations instead of just sitting around in their cars all day smoking. 3. Train the police to drive in a law abiding manner. 4. Enforce traffic regulations on all vechicles, especially those with white license plates who routinely break all laws. 5. Actually develop and enforce zoning laws that force property owners to provide adequate parking for cars, scooters, bicycles and delivery vehicles. 6. By implementing suggestion no. 5, eliminate the parking of bicycles and scooters on pedestrian sidewalks.
Most modern cities have found that building ever wider roads only eliminates congestion for a short period of time. Traffic usually increases to fill the available space. In Kunming the growing number of vehicles only exacerbates the core issue: some of the worst drivers in all of China!
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