Sitting in a taxi that was crawling along an elevated highway in Shanghai last Saturday, I asked the driver what was holding us up. The taxi driver chuckled and replied this was normal and it was just the traffic congestion.
He's right. Everywhere you go these days, you're bound to hit upon more than one traffic jam along the way, because of the proliferation of cars.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. At least it indicates that the economy is growing and people are getting richer. But the worsening traffic jams are testing commuters' patience to the limit in Shanghai, as it is in many other major cities on the mainland. My friends in Beijing say I shouldn't complain about the traffic in Shanghai, the congestion in the capital is a lot worse.
But it doesn't have to be this way, as shown by the examples set by other cities around the world that are employing the latest technology to fight traffic congestion.
In the past, it was widely believed that the only way to solve a city's traffic problems was to build more and wider roads. Flyovers, or elevated highways, were thought to be the ultimate answer. But in Shanghai, and some other big cities, building more roads or flyovers to speed up traffic in certain areas has simply resulted in worse traffic jams elsewhere.
More and more cities are now trying to solve their congestion problems with a wider application of the latest communications technology. People almost always cite Singapore as an example of a "smart city" and the progress made in this direction.
Singapore is a much smaller city than Shanghai, with fewer people and cars. What's more, the island state doesn't have to cope with the daily influx of cars from outside the city. But its traffic management program, augmented by the latest technology, can still serve as an example to other cities where clogged roads are, as the taxi driver in Shanghai pointed out, a normal part of daily life.
According to a special feature in techradar.com, Singapore has had a road pricing system since 1975 to control traffic flows in the downtown districts during busy hours. But "it's a relatively new traffic monitoring scheme called J-Eyes that has got smart city developers excited," the article said.
J-Eyes, short for Junction Electronic Eyes, is a network of surveillance cameras at more than 300 road junctions across the city that feed real-time video clips of traffic conditions to a control center where operators can decide how to direct traffic flows to ease any congestion building up. Drivers can also download information provided by the J-Eyes network onto their smartphones to plan their trips.
Taking traffic control technology to another level, the private developers of Songdo City on 1,500 acres of reclaimed land near Incheon in South Korea are building roads with imbedded sensors that are designed not only to monitor traffic but also to dim the street lights to save energy when there are no cars or people around. In addition, the city planners are putting in place a vast public transport network, including subway lines and ferry services on canals, to minimize the use of private cars. They are also installing convenient charging stations to encourage the use of environmentally friendly electric vehicles.
Of course, refitting Shanghai or Beijing with such technology may not be possible. But city planners in China should realize that they will need "smart help" if they are to solve the seemingly insurmountable traffic problems they face.
(Source: China Daily)