Side Note

A gif visualizing the growth of urban rapid transit systems across China and Taiwan from 1990 to present, and a projection of growth through 2020.

Mapping the growth of China’s subway system for 1.3 billion people

It can be difficult to conceptualize the real scale of urban growth in places like China, but the growth of its public transit system provides a pretty good picture: the country has more than 2,700 miles of subways, spanning across 133 different lines in 31 different cities. In every year between 2010 to 2015, 232 miles of subway tracks were built annually.

If this still seem hard to grasp, Peter Dovak of Transit Oriented Design mapped the growth of these transit systems across the country for every year between 1990 and today. He also included the estimated growth of these transit systems through 2020, which will be backed by almost $150 billion in state funding.

China has a national population of over 1.3 billion, including populations topping 20 million in both Shanghai and Beijing. Also, without a vast system public transit, these cities would increase people’s reliance on cars, whose toxic emissions have contributed to life-threatening air quality problems in the past.

China has taken steps to restrict the use of private cars in cities like Beijing, but it’s needed to expand its transit system in order to keep up with the country’s transportation needs. The country’s five-year plan, which goes from 2016 to 2020 explicitly stated, “We will give priority to the development of public transportation, speed up the development of urban rail transit, bus rapid transit, and other forms of mass public transportation.”

The country is also taking steps to limit the populations of its cities, period. The Chinese government plans to cap the populations of Shanghai and Beijing at 25 and 23 million people, respectively. But economically disadvantaged and socially marginalized individuals are going to be the ones to suffer first. Since 2016, the government has been ordering tens of thousands of migrants to leave within 24-hours of notice.

Even if China stands to have a robust, 4,000-mile urban transit system by 2020, not everyone will have the opportunity to benefit.