urbanism – landscape – ideas – theory – whimsy

Deconstructing the Shanghai Expo – Part III: The Size

Google Maps satellite imagery of Venice (move over with mouse to compare to outline of Shanghai's Expo at same scale, rotated to best fit and reducing distance across Huangpu River)

Just how big was Shanghai’s Expo? A constant refrain from anyone visiting was how tiring the whole thing was as a result of how much walking was required (of course the heat didn’t help). Officially the Expo was 528 hectares (or just over 5 square kilometres), but how big is that? A neat comparison is with another contained place around which you mostly have to walk, Venice. The main central islands of Venice (above) are about 540 hectares (not including the port facilities at left), almost the same size as the Expo site! The Expo outline used above (traced from Google Earth) turned out smaller than the official site size (c. 400 hectares instead) but the sizes still seem comparable.

Google Maps satellite imagery of the Shanghai Expo site early in 2010 (move over with mouse to compare to outline of Venice's main islands at same scale, rotated to best fit)

More shocking than the size itself, is the comparison of how much city fabric of Venice’s type can fit in the same area of the Expo site, revealing just how massive the Expo buildings were (are).

Detail of Main Axis and China Pavilion area - Google Maps satellite imagery of the Expo site early in 2010 (move over with mouse to compare to Venice's urban fabric at the same scale)

More detail of Main Axis and China Pavilion area - Google Maps satellite imagery of the Expo site early in 2010 (move over with mouse to compare to Venice's urban fabric at the same scale)

If you haven’t seen them, don’t forget to check out Part I of Deconstructing the Expo: By The Numbers , and Part II: The Effacement

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Deconstructing the Shanghai Expo – Part II: The Effacement

Google Earth imagery of the Expo site early in 2010 (move over with mouse to compare to May, 2004)

Before anyone gets too teary-eyed about the impending disappearance of most of Shanghai’s Expo 2010, they should spare a thought for what was there before the enormous 528 hectare site was largely wiped clean in readying the tabula rasa for all that cloying architectural play-time.

Despite the amount of greenwash that got thrown around, it hardly seems like the most sustainable thing in the world to wipe clean over 5 square kilometers of city for a 6 month event, and then have to start wiping most of it clean again. And as for so-called Urban Best Practices, the minimal amount of industrial heritage that was preserved hardly measures up to even the standards set by many adaptively-reused creative districts in Shanghai itself, let alone in so many other cities around the world.

Of course, the result will be the perfectly-sized (ie. huge), empty lots ready for high-density redevelopment that modern Chinese urbanism revolves around – not much new there.

We also shouldn’t forget the 18,000 households that were moved off the site to new housing elsewhere, although domestic media worked hard to remind us how much better and more wonderful all those people’s lives are now, thanks to the Expo!

Continue below to zoom in at some more detailed areas of the Expo site – Google hasn’t perfectly lined up the two sets of satellite imagery but they’re close enough.

Detail of Main Axis and China Pavilion - Google Earth imagery of the Expo site early in 2010 (move over with mouse to compare to May, 2004)

More detail of Main Axis and China Pavilion - Google Earth imagery of the Expo site early in 2010 (move over with mouse to compare to May, 2004)

Detail of west end (Zone C) with European and African pavilions - Google Earth imagery of the Expo site early in 2010 (move over with mouse to compare to May, 2004)

Whoa there – that looks like a village, still thriving in the centre of Shanghai in 2004! Those even look like fields or market gardens! Isn’t that the kind of thing that designers are constantly proposing for the sustainable future, and here it was, sadly wiped away by the Expo. And what an interesting pattern it had… of course that had to be wiped away too, to be replaced by the giant big box of the Africa Joint Pavilion… oh well!

More detail of west end (Zone C) with European and African pavilions - Google Earth imagery of the Expo site early in 2010 (move over with mouse to compare to May, 2004)

Detail of the Corporate pavilion area in Zone D - Google Earth imagery of the Expo site early in 2010 (move over with mouse to compare to May, 2004)

Detail of the Urban Best Practices Area in Zone E - Google Earth imagery of the Expo site early in 2010 (move over with mouse to compare to May, 2004)

In the Urban Best Practices Area you can see the most preserved buildings (albeit most of them heavily altered), but you can still see how fundamentally the pattern and texture of the fabric was altered for the purposes of the Expo.

If you haven’t seen it, don’t forget to check out Part I of Deconstructing the Expo: By The Numbers

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Deconstructing the Shanghai Expo – Part I: By The Numbers


The China Pavilion's Orwellian inverted ziggurat looms, silently watchful, over the rest of Expo 2010 in Shanghai

Expo 2010 in Shanghai ended recently after breaking the previous Expo attendance record with 73 million visitors. The superlatives in the Chinese press are as unrestrained as usual, the terse news items in the western press are as ungracious as usual, and the “old China hand” reaction against the western press is as excessive as usual. But still, a lot of attention is being paid to those visitor numbers, even though China is the most populous country in the world. Wasn’t that only to be expected, not analyzed like it really means something?

Before the Shanghai Expo even opened, it was announced that the “expected attendance” would be about 70 million visitors, which would conveniently break the Expo attendance record. But of course this was actually a goal, not an estimate. The logic was fairly simple: what will it take to get 70 million Chinese to visit the Shanghai Expo? Massive advertising, free tickets, package tour discounts. Given how much press and TV coverage the Expo got inside China and the plentiful supply of free tickets people in the Shanghai area seem to have had, I’m surprised that only 70 million people showed up! There’s only so many times you can hear “it’s simply the biggest event in history” before you at least get a little curious about what the fuss is all about.

The Shanghai Expo was only really incredible (attendance-wise) when compared to recent Expos, but let’s look a little more closely at the 1970 Osaka Expo whose attendance record was broken.

The record attendance from the 1970 Osaka Expo was 64.2 million people. In 1970 Japan’s population was 104.34 million – that means visitor numbers amounted to 61.5% of the entire population of Japan! With the current population of China being around 1.3 billion, the Shanghai Expo visitor numbers amounted to just 5.5% of China’s population (which of course doesn’t even take into account all the people claiming to have gone 10, 20, even 30 times). That’s hardly the groundswell of “once in a lifetime” experience for society’s underprivileged that some are making it out to be, after all how many of the visitors actually couldn’t go abroad themselves if they really wanted to?

How about another comparison with an Expo that was deemed to be culturally and nationally defining, Expo ’67 in Montreal. Expo ’67 (conveniently timed to coincide with Canada’s centennial as a country) is considered one of the most successful World’s Fairs of the 20th century and attracted 50.3 million visitors. The population of Canada in 1967 was 20.5 million, meaning visitor numbers amounted to 2.5 times the population of the country (a per-capita record that still stands). How’s that for cultural impact?

Despite the fairytale story that’s getting repeated quite a bit, the Shanghai Expo can hardly pretend to have really been a way for the average “disadvantaged” Chinese citizen to understand the rest of the world – if anything, it presented the world to China on Chinese terms, bending over backwards to give the visitors more or less what they were expecting to see and experience: a lot of cliches, some excitement and entertainment and a chance to be part of something big.

While the Shanghai Expo has helped a certain number of a certain class of people (people who may not be able to afford to go abroad) get to experience (I really hesitate to use the word learn) something about the rest of the world (by watching videos in weird giant rooms with lots of other people after waiting in line for hours), as a limited 6 month event, this is just a tiny blip compared to the ever increasing numbers of Chinese tourists heading overseas.

The number of Chinese outbound international tourists in 2010 is estimated to be 54 million people, and by 2020 it will be 100 million tourists travelling overseas, every year. Those kind of numbers make any “foreign” experience the Expo could have given a stunning inconsequentiality.

People insisting what an amazing epoch-making event the Shanghai Expo was are stuck in the past, still pretending to themselves that China is made up of backward, uninformed farmers who need the Expo to teach them about the world. Think again. After all, over 75% of Americans don’t even have passports, so presumably they don’t think it’s all that worthwhile learning about the rest of the world through travel, so why do the Chinese need this? Pretending that the Expo was all somehow for the benefit of those who will never have a chance to go overseas is preposterous and that $55 billion (or is that $95 billion?) could have gone quite some way towards improving the substandard rural health coverage and standard of living of some of those same citizens. But of course that wasn’t what the Expo was all about.

So what was it all about? The Chinese like a big party as much as anyone else, and when one was offered, they showed up. So let’s call the Shanghai Expo what it was, a showcase for China’s emerging “soft power”, an enormous entertainment event, a great marketing opportunity, a perfect excuse for government to spend an awful lot of money on things they wanted to do anyway… and not much else. As for lasting impact? Perhaps the 1970 Osaka Expo had a powerful effect on Japan (in the same way that Expo ’67 in Montreal did for Canada), but unfortunately for Shanghai, China’s big coming-out party happened in 2008 at a little event called the Beijing Olympics, so that big place in history that the Shanghai Expo so dearly seems to want is not going to happen.

Toronto’s inner-city/inner-suburb political divide continues

2010 Toronto Mayoral Election results by ward (by Marc Lostracco/Torontoist.com), move over with mouse to superimpose Old City of Toronto boundaries

In what one commenter called Mike Harris’ gift that keeps on giving (or rather, the pain that keeps on hurting), Toronto’s 12 year-old forced amalgamation continues to have significant and divisive ramifications on the City’s choice of mayor. The post-amalgamation political divide is frequently characterized as an urban/suburban divide, which in some ways it is, although in reality it simply follows the boundaries of the old pre-amalgamation City of Toronto, while the so-called “suburbs” are today so far from the edges of the metropolitan area that the name is slightly misleading (especially as in Toronto proper the suburbs tend to be poorer and very culturally diverse), and so I’ve called it the inner city/inner suburb divide instead. What the divide has meant is that it is easily possible for the Mayoral choice of the outer city to dictate the electoral result regardless of how the inner city votes, but in general not the reverse. In last week’s election, this was again the case, perhaps more clearly proved by the data than in any previous election (yes, even more so than the Mel Lastman years!), with outer Toronto clearly preferring Rob Ford, and the inner-city pre-amalgamation City of Toronto preferring George Smitherman.

While some may feel that a more “nuanced” view can be gained by mapping the amount of support the leading candidate in each ward received, this does not really change the simplified overall trend, but does suggest that “downtown” culture seems to play a big role in this political divide (see below).

Election 2010 results weighted (Map by Marc Lostracco/Torontoist.com)

However, this last conclusion is again undermined by mapping the results from individual polling stations rather than wards (see below). Here again, despite a more “fuzzy-edged” picture than the simple view, we can clearly make out that there were hardly any polls returning more than 40% support for Rob Ford within the boundaries of the pre-amalgamation City of Toronto. If anything, the distinction has become even more accurate against the exact boundaries of the former City!

Percentage of mayoral votes cast for Rob Ford by poll (by Patrick Cain at patrickcain.ca), move over with mouse to superimpose Old City of Toronto boundaries

The unfortunate by-product of this strange correlation is a continued, and perhaps increasing animosity between the inner-city and the inner-suburbs. One is always blaming the other for forcing upon them the policies and direction representative of the politics of the “other”, pointing out how politically (and I think we can venture culturally, though not in the multicultural kind of sense) different and divided the two parts of the city really are. This fundamentally calls into question the wisdom (or perhaps, the true intent) of amalgamation. Given the choice, Toronto’s “inner-suburbs” would probably vote for Hazel McCallion if they only could, and perhaps the inner-suburbs should have been amalgamated with all the adjoining suburban areas that have a similar mindset, leaving the old City of Toronto alone at the centre, pursuing its bohemian, “crazy”, socialist, leftist (or simply centrist) path. After all, the City of Vancouver has hardly suffered by maintaining its old boundaries, and if anything has had a creeping, positive effect on the surrounding suburban municipalities, enncouraging them to progress on their own, little by little, at their own pace.

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Progress of Demolition of Kashgar

Google Earth mapping of demolition of Kashgar by Stefan Geens (ogleearth.com), click for larger version

Last year warnings were raised around the world about the impending demolition of most of the ancient old quarter of Kashgar, a key city along the fabled Silk Road caravan route between west and east, located in China’s Xinjiang province (aka Uyghur Autonomous Region) near the westernmost border of China. Before demolition started, the city was considered “the best-preserved example of a traditional Islamic city to be found anywhere in central Asia.” The government plans to demolish 85% of the old town, replacing the old buildings and fabric with modern housing and development “in local style”, ostensibly to improve the local economy and living standards of residents, and ensuring housing can withstand an earthquake, though whether those are just convenient excuses is subject to a lot of discussion that I’d rather not get into. Stefan Geen (of “neogeo” website ogleearth.com) made a trip to Kashgar in late July 2010 and thoroughly documented the extent of demolition as of August 1, 2010 in Google Earth and on his website, and extensively photographed what remains and the people he met there, all mapped and located in his KMZ file for Google Earth (which you should check out for full interactivity). Above is his map of what has been demolished, and what was in the process of being demolished while he was there, as well as showing the small area that will be preserved for your typical Chinese tourist trap.

While the overall effect so far from the air perhaps doesn’t seem as shocking as the demolition of Tianjin’s old town I wrote about earlier (without more uptodate airphotos, the destruction is not yet obvious, the base is the latest Google Earth has, from October 26, 2009), the damage to the cultural heritage and tourism prospects of Kashgar will certainly be far, far worse once demolition is completed. It is frankly shocking that Kashgar was not made a UNESCO World Heritage Site, something that would have certainly at least preserved the physical character of the old town, and is an incredibly popular route for Chinese heritage tourism spots these days (China has the 3rd highest number of World Heritage Sites in the world, and growing). Of course, the country itself has to nominate the place to become designated a World Heritage Site, which likely explains why Kashgar has never been designated. While being designated is not some kind of magical panacea of preservation (leading as it almost inevitably does to massive tourism and the changes of ownership, character and development that brings with it), the degree of preservation that does occur, whether through international or financial pressures from UNESCO, can be gauged by the fact that only 2 World Heritage sites have ever been delisted for destroying the character that led to designation.

In any case, I was hoping to make it to Kashgar to experience its unique ancient character before demolition, but not sure I’ll make it now (the disturbances in Xinjiang last year didn’t help). Actually, I just came back from Shangri-La (or at least, the self-named Shangri-La which is not the same thing at all, with a stop in Lijiang, another World Heritage Site), which ironically, despite the name, is a far cry from the unique, isolated kind of place that I imagine Kashgar is (or is that was?).

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When Photoshop is so good it’s bad

The monster highway from hell that doesn't actually exist - move over with your mouse to see the reality - original photo by Philip Greenspun

After being sent this image of a monster highway in an email, I became rather obsessed with finding out where on earth this could be and devoted quite some time to searching for any hints about where the widest highways in the world were, but to no avail! Every time I thought I might be onto it, satellite imagery would show the reputed “widest” were rarely even close to this behemoth. Examining the photo closely, I noticed some strange discrepancies that began to make me suspect that it might have been manipulated – there are a couple of groups of vehicles that seem to be repeated, in the distance there are two green highway signs which felt like they might be clones, and something about it felt a little fake, like it was just too good (or maybe that’s bad) to be true.

Finally after some rather more random image searches, I came across the answer: this image is a very good fake based on a photo of Interstate 405 in Los Angeles taken from the Getty Center. First I found some similar views of the I-405 which clearly showed it was only half the width of the fake but the landscape and adjacent buildings matched. The key was the strange shed-like building on the left which is actually the station for the tram that takes people up to the Getty Center from the parking structure beside the highway. Then I managed to find the original photo itself (by a guy called Philip Greenspun, who ironically is rather serious about protecting his photo copyright). The photo was heavily manipulated (apparently without Greenspun’s knowledge) to create this poster-child of Photoshop creativity. Even though the I-405 is one of the busiest highways in America, strangely enough the original photo shows quite light traffic in comparison to the imaginings of the photo manipulator.

While this case might seem rather amusing because the use of image manipulation helps to demonize our highway obsession, the skill with which the image has been manipulated leads to some serious bending of reality and potential (dare I say, deliberate?) misunderstandings. If an image of a highway had been manipulated to make it look like it was less wide than it really was, and that image found its way into a presentation on whether or not to widen that highway, all of a sudden the whole business doesn’t seem so funny and harmless. This is why reputable news agencies are having to take a strong stand against image manipulation by photojournalists, as sometimes, adjusting light levels and contrast isn’t all that they’re up to.

In any case, rest easy Toronto, the 401 can still claim its place as more or less the widest and busiest highway in the world!

Highway 401, Toronto

Eerily empty Highway 401, Toronto (and no, not as a result of manipulation!) - photo by Kenny Louie

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Mina Tent City, Mecca

Google Maps satellite photo of Mina Tent City, Saudi Arabia - Mecca is to the left (west)

What does a temporary tent city for 3 million people look like? A recent visit to Expo 2010 in Shanghai clued me in to what is probably the largest ephemeral urban design in the world, the Mina Tent City in Saudi Arabia, erected each year to house Hajj pilgrims visiting Mecca during the last month of the lunar Islamic calendar. The tent city is stunningly portrayed in a pavilion in the Urban Best Practices Area of Expo 2010, with huge wall size aerial photos and birdseye views that do far more justice to the scale of the tent city than what I can show online. The tent city is erected in a valley next to the village of Mina, east of Mecca itself. It is an extremely regimented design with infrastructure such as toilets and water supply designated for a reasonable number of tents in each cell. The tents are standardized and have been designed to be well ventilated and prevent fires that used to be common in the more chaotic pilgrim tent cities of the past. The planning, design, atmosphere and overall purpose are perhaps the diametrical opposite of Black Rock City (the temporary city created for the Burning Man Festival each year) that I posted about in 2007, although the size, population, and crazy logistics of transportation at Mina Tent City and for the Hajj in general is orders of magnitude greater than anything the Black Rock City needs to handle.

Google Maps satellite photo of Mina Tent City, Saudi Arabia - detail level 2

Google Maps satellite photo of Mina Tent City, Saudi Arabia - detail level 3

Google Maps satellite photo of Mina Tent City, Saudi Arabia - detail level 4

Google Maps satellite photo of Mina Tent City, Saudi Arabia - detail level 5

Here are some birdseye views of what Mina Tent City looks like:

Image: Daily Mail

Image: Zawaj.com

Image: Reuters/Daily Mail

Image: Panoramio (Dr.M.Nazir Awan)

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Shanghai’s Metro and London’s Tube Head to Head

Shanghai Metro Network 2020

Shanghai Metro Network in 2020 in style of the famous London Tube diagram, by Flickr user Kzaral

Now that Shanghai’s Metro is officially the longest subway network in the world (by track length), I thought it would be interesting to do a comparison between it and the long-time title holder that it displaced, London’s Underground.

The first major difference is that Shanghai’s Metro is still expanding, very fast. By 2020 it intends to have added over 350km in new lines and extensions, almost doubling its network length, and in China, when the government intends to achieve something within a 10 year timeframe, they generally succeed or come close. With currently 420km of network, Shanghai’s Metro earlier this year passed the Underground (which has 402km, although I believe that doesn’t include the Overground line or the Docklands Light Railway) after opening 3 new lines and long extensions to 2 other lines (creating a subway link between the city’s two airports) in time for the opening of the Shanghai Expo. The shocking thing about the 2020 expansion plan is that it will make the above diagram (created by Kzaral aka FML in the style of the famous Tube map) a reality and not a fantasy. All this from a system that only opened its first subway line (appropriately called Line 1) in 1995. Yes, you read that right, 1995.

The second major difference is that there is no suburban commuter rail system in Shanghai that compares with those in cities like London, Paris and Tokyo, where the railway network is essentially operated as a secondary rapid transit system with longer station intervals than the subway, generally with an interchangeable fare system. In Shanghai there is only the regular railway network which is not run anything like a metro rapid transit system, but clearly prioritizes long-distance and high-speed trains, and largely services only 2 stations within the inner city, the main station and the south station. This is a severe deficiency in a city as large as Shanghai since it is those suburban commuter rail systems that ensure quick and efficient travel into the city centre from the suburbs, and in Shanghai make no mistake, those suburbs are often nearly as high density as the inner city. This is the reason that even with what seems on the surface like a fully implemented subway system, Shanghai actually desperately needs to push ahead with the rest of the subway system expansion program, because most of the new lines and track length will be servicing the vast suburban areas in an attempt to make up for this lack of a commuter rail network. Time will tell whether this model actually services the suburbs with better all-round transit than the commuter rail approach, and at least Shanghai has the density to justify subways in the suburbs. However, as of now, the subway model predetermines extremely long subway rides from the suburbs rather than quicker commuter trains that stop less frequently and dump you in the city centre to jump on the subway to your destination. In contrast to the London commuter rail paradox of someone living in a rural village outside the city potentially having a significantly shorter commute than someone living in the inner city itself, in Shanghai the emerging paradox (fueled by extensive high-speed rail expansion) is someone living in a city 300km away from Shanghai (eg Nanjing) having a shorter commute than someone living in Shanghai’s suburbs (the new Shanghai-Nanjing train can do the 300km trip in 73 minutes).

Full current regional network diagram of Shanghai Metro, July 2010, move over with mouse to show 2020 expansion (credit: Shanghai Daily)

Full regional network diagram of London Underground (including Overground and Docklands Light railway) (credit: TfL)

The Shanghai network map is quite a bit less diagrammatic than the iconic Tube map, but a comparison reveals the different biases of each system. In particular, the primary strength of the London Underground has always been in movement around inner London’s central areas for which the coverage is excellent. This bias is highly demonstrated in the famous Beck Tube map in the extremely large size of Zones 1 and 2 compared to the suburban zones, although this was no doubt to allow clear reading of the closely spaced stations and line layouts. In Shanghai’s case the emphasis is clearly on the radial pattern of suburban lines rather than the central area, and this will only increase with the future expansion plans. In particular, notice in the two maps that Shanghai’s circular Line 4 (the purple irregular circle) and London’s Circle Line (yellow) appear about the same size in the two diagrams, but Line 4 encloses an area 3.6 times bigger than the Circle Line (62.9km2 vs 17.5km2, by my measurements).

Central area diagram of Shanghai Metro, July 2010, move over with mouse to show 2020 expansion (credit: Shanghai Daily)

Central area diagram of London Underground (including Overground and Docklands Light railway) (credit: TfL)

Now perhaps Shanghai’s central area is larger than London’s thus justifying a larger scale for the circular line, or perhaps Line 4 shouldn’t be used to compare either its function or service area with the Circle Line. Unfortunately, this is where the diagram maps start to fail us, because it becomes hard to understand whether there’s a significant difference in service quality or convenience as a result of this difference in scale. For that we need a geographically accurate representation of both systems that we can look at and measure at the same scale. So here we are:

Central area of Shanghai Metro, July 2010 (geographically accurate, showing historic city centre districts)

Central area of London Underground (geographically accurate, not including Overground and railway network), move over with mouse to show major parks of central London

What is most noticeable right away is that London’s Circle Line falls entirely inside the Underground’s Zone 1 which can easily be taken to represent central London, although anyone who knows London will know that quite a few districts considered “central” fall inside Zone 2 instead. Additionally, the London Congestion Zone (which could also easily by used as a boundary for central London) largely mimics Zone 1 with a few variations but enclosing an area of the same size. This means that the Circle Line directly services numerous important destinations right within central London, while it’s tracks are shared with 3 other lines over different parts of the route meaning every station on the Circle Line allows transfers to a different line. There are additionally 18 railway stations and termini within the Underground’s Zone 1, 6 of them directly serviced by the Circle Line, allowing direct connections for commuter rail passengers.

For the Shanghai map I have included historic districts of the city which include the Old Chinese City and its port district along the Huangpu River, the French Concession and the International Concession. Note how Line 4 essentially entirely runs outside the central historic districts. In fact the large Western District area of the International Settlement was the least developed part of all the historic districts, and remains a rather distant feeling part of the city. Strangely, Line 4 also avoids directly servicing Shanghai’s new financial centre at Lujiazui in Pudong on the east bank of the Huangpu River, although it does service Shanghai’s main railway station, although this station itself falls outside of the historic core of the city. The route of Line 4 seems to have largely been decided by the convenience of using old railway right-of-ways and the construction of Shanghai’s Inner Ring Road rather than determining what would best service the city’s future transportation needs.

In general, central Shanghai today is often considered to be anything within the Inner Ring Road, but this definition does not relate to the historic city in any way (particularly on the Pudong/eastern side), while functionally it might relate to the modern reality. I calculated that the old districts of Shanghai I included on the map above cover about 38km2 which funnily enough is around the same size as London Underground’s Zone 1, but nevertheless Line 4 is far bigger than these historic districts, and also misses other new centres at the edge of the historic districts such as Xujiahui and Lujiazui. The real implication of this comes when you examine numbers of stations: London’s Circle Line has 27 stations over 21km around the circle (all of them with an available interchange to at least one line, and many of them directly servicing major destinations), while Shanghai’s Line 4 has 26 stations over 33.7km with interchanges at 16 stations and servicing relatively few major destinations. All together there are 64 Underground stations in London’s Zone 1, but only 34 within Shanghai’s Line 4 (not including Line 4 stations themselves, since I consider them to be outside the city centre), even though London’s Zone 1 (at 38km2) is almost half the size of the area inside Line 4 (62.9km2).

Full current regional network of Shanghai Metro, July 2010 (geographically accurate)

Full regional network of London Underground (geographically accurate, not including Overground and commuter railway network)

Now of course in terms of urbanism, Shanghai and London are very difficult cities to compare, so it may not be fair to dismiss the route of Shanghai’s Line 4 as inappropriate and inconvenient compared to London’s Circle Line. It’s certainly true that central Shanghai is not and will not be served as well by its Metro as central London is by the Underground, but in many ways this reflects the evolving functional reality of Shanghai and the decreasing importance of the historic districts in the future development of the city, largely resulting from the budding desire to protect the historic heritage in the inner districts. But given the densities of suburban Shanghai and the far lower car ownership rates and the lack of commuter rail options, Shanghai does desperately need to improve transportation in the suburbs, since in the future Shanghai’s suburbs cannot be allowed to rely on automobile transportation to the same degree as London or other western cities because at these densities, congestion will be unavoidable and nightmarish. If you look at the entire cities’ networks in a geographically accurate representation (see above), the systems are actually highly comparable, and the area covered also comparable, with the caveat that without showing London’s commuter railway network, London’s Underground appears to have less coverage than Shanghai’s current system (particularly south of the Thames which has always been poorly serviced by the Underground itself but is quite well served by railway). Perhaps the most shocking thing is that London has been benefiting from Underground services since 1863, which given the massive population and size of Shanghai, makes you wonder how on earth Shanghai functioned at all before the first subway line opened in 1995!

Lastly, there are a few things Shanghai could do to help improve the Metro beyond the constant expansions. It’s very odd that none of the lines (even the most popular, Lines 1 and 2) operate much beyond 11pm, and in fact many of the lines cannot be relied upon after 9pm or 10pm (although for some of them, running has been extended during the Expo). Additionally the station dwell times seem excessively long compared to most systems I’ve used in the world – the slow speed of the train arrival, the delay until the doors are opened, the delay before the train leaves after the doors have closed, all add time at every station, which compounds itself on longer rides. I don’t know if the introduction of automatic train operation will be able to speed up these times or whether they relate to safety concerns with the sliding glass platform barrier doors at most stations. Lastly, crowding on trains even during off-peak times and late in the evening seems to indicate that Shanghai’s Metro should increase operating frequency on many of its lines, and suggests that there is clearly high demand for later, more frequent subway operation.

Credits: The Underground geographically accurate maps are based on the work of London Underground geographic maps group at Wikimedia Commons – station locations are accurate, but line routes between stations have been interpolated.

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Subway platform barriers, the quick and easy way

A train sitting at Shanghai Science & Technology Museum station platforms on Shanghai's Metro Line 2

New half-height metal and glass platform barriers along Shanghai Metro’s Line 2 (green line) station platforms prove that you can improve subway station safety without the expense and complications of the full height sliding glass platform doors. What’s even more impressive (if you think about the TTC’s insistence that any form of platform barrier can’t be done without an automatic train driving system) is that these trains are still being manually driven. Admittedly, the trains tend to enter the station quite a bit more slowly than the TTC’s subway trains, and getting the alignment quite right manually probably slows down operation a little bit, but apart from that the simplicity and elegance of this solution is quite remarkable. Even though gaps to the track still exist, the feeling of security on the platforms is greatly improved by this solution and you can lean against the barriers comfortably and safely even while a train is entering the station.

Century Avenue station platforms on Shanghai's Metro Line 2

However, at People’s Square (see below, by far the busiest station on the Shanghai Metro network), because of the crowds always present on the platforms, they opted for half-height sliding glass platform doors which even more effectively address the safety issues, presumably at considerably less expense than the full height doors, and again alignment of the train does not seem to be a significant problem. The only limitations of this half-height solution is the difficulty of providing heating and/or airconditioning in the platform areas.

Line 2 platforms at People's Square interchange station on Shanghai's Metro during a typical rush hour - the doors have just closed and these are the people who couldn't fit in to the train, waiting for the next one

And of course, even on Shanghai Metro Line 1 (red line, which has full height glass sliding platform doors) they don’t always get the alignment quite right, and will occasionally back up a little, or just open the doors slightly misaligned (see below, where the yellow arrow pointing out from the door is at the centre of the platform doors).


Misaligned train doors with platform doors at Shaanxi Nan Lu station on Shanghai Metro Line 1

Mysterious new bike share program in Shanghai

A new bike sharing program has been set up in Shanghai’s former French Concession by Xuhui District’s Tourism Bureau just in time for the Expo, with bicycles and infrastructure provided by Shanghai’s own Forever bicycle company. Unlike other such systems already existing around Shanghai (such as in Minhang District, Baoshan, Pudong and Hangzhou)  it’s apparently aimed at tourists rather than residents. The system supposedly has under 200 bicycles and 7 bike rental points which operate 24 hours a day, and the bikes are tagged with RFIDs so they can be tracked. However, there are only 2 locations where you can buy the cards needed to use the bikes, and then only during business hours, and there is no signage or information whatsoever at the rental points about how to use the system or where you need to go to start using the system. At the above rental point on Wukang Lu, even though one of the administration locations is mere steps away, no signage in chinese or english indicated that. It is a truly mysterious system. Anyways, 300rmb (c. CAD$50) deposit is required plus minimum 100rmb loaded onto card, and then it’s 2rmb (CAD 0.30) for the first hour of a rental and 4rmb for each hour after that, and you can get the card at 393 A Wukang Lu (inside Xuhui Tourist Information Center) or 1068 ZhaoJiaBang Lu or check out the official website (chinese only).