Bus Rapid Transit (km) 20 | Passengers (per day) 240,000 | Bike Share bikes 645 | Cycling Infrastructure (km) 30 (of 220 planned)
Over the last five years, Yichang, China has been making monumental progress in implementing sustainable transport projects in an attempt to keep pace with the rapid influx of people moving into cities. While much of the international attention has been focused on the megacities, the true scale of change in China is better understood by focusing on the many smaller, rapidly growing “mid-sized” cities like Yichang, where markets, and development, are on the rise.
Yichang is one of more than 100 Chinese cities with a population of one million or more. With 1.5 million residents and growing, Yichang is a mid-sized, yet influential city in central China. Located on the Yangtze River, the site of the Three Gorges Dam, Yichang aims to lead the region in sustainable transport and urban development. The city won the Sustainable Transport award in 2016 for implementing a series of progressive transit projects over the last year: a high-quality bus rapid transit system, new cycling infrastructure, and improved pedestrian experience on a 23 kilometer stretch through the heart of the city.
The implemented plan is the first corridor-wide approach to implementing BRT, parking reform, bicycle infrastructure, and non-motorized transport (NMT) reform simultaneously. It is only the second Gold-Standard BRT in Asia and hosts 240,000 passenger trips per day, 20% of whom would previously have used cars or taxis (a reduction in 300,000 vehicle kilometers traveled daily). The 23 km served now connects Yichang’s downtown, high speed rail station, and residential neighborhoods to the north and south.
Yichang learned from extant BRT systems in Guangzhou and Lanzhou to ensure the system was as efficient and effective as possible. They implemented a dedicated right of way, off-board fare collection, and preferential treatment at intersections to increase efficiency of boarding and bus speed. New technology developed by the Jiangsu Humin uses a sensor to extend a platform to the bus while the station doors open. This increases boarding efficiency and allows for wheelchair access while increasing parking efficiency by giving the driver a larger berth next to the platform. Improving on Lanzhou’s design, Yichang is the second BRT system in China with doors on both sides of buses allowing buses to connect on either side of a station for increased efficiency at a reduced infrastructure cost.
Yichang further followed in the footsteps of Guangzhou by creating a direct service BRT system wherein multiple lines carry passengers from residential areas through the primary, commercial corridor of Dongshan Avenue. This minimizes transfer requirements, reduces the overall bus fleet requirements, and reduces transit time for passengers. After observing some bus bunching issues in Lanzhou, Yichang increased the distance between stations to improve service and rider distribution during peak hours. Overall, the BRT has reduced bus-vehicle kilometers traveled by 7,400 km per day and increased the average speed of buses from 16 to 20 km/hr, and these rates are expected to continue to improve as the system grows.
ITDP partnered with Yichang in 2012 to develop the BRT system and infrastructure, advise on design of bike lanes, develop parking reforms, and implement other NMT improvements. The city has opened the first 30 kilometers of a planned 220 km cycling network and advanced into the first phase of a bike sharing program. The first four sharing stations were built in 2015 with 23 more to be finished by the end of 2016.
Yichang has further begun to reclaim space from cars for people with impressive parking reforms. About half of 1,000 off-street parking spaces were removed and bollards installed to stop illegal parking. Those off-street parking space that remained were redesigned to minimally interfere with pedestrian and bicycle movement. Further, 29 pedestrian crossings were redesigned for increased safety and new refuge islands and covered walkways were introduced throughout Dongshan Avenue. To further beautify the area, 700 trees were planted along the avenue.
Yichang went well beyond creating a BRT system to holistically address traffic, parking, bicycle infrastructure, and pedestrian space. This creation of a new sustainable urban corridor is the first step in improving transportation for residents but also for changing attitudes in the city for future projects of this nature. Large-scale projects are not always popular, but Yichang made extra commitments to advertise the changes and actively engage with the citizenry. Through an open phone number and email address the city incredibly replied to 100% of concerns and comments from the public.
The development project in Yichang was successful thanks to dedication from the local government and the experience of ITDP and other project consultants. Starting with the project’s conception, Yichang’s government gave contractors the flexibility to pick their own teams leading to the detailed BRT conceptual design being ready in just four months. As opposed to many other BRT initiatives, Yichang’s government set up a project management board as soon as construction began and kept abreast of updates and issues. Alongside them, ITDP and other consultants supervised the project personally ensuring that any problems were solved quickly. This hands-on approach and the trusting support from the Asian Development Bank, Mayor, Vice Mayor and Party Secretary helped ensure the project was a success.