By Jennifer Cleaver
Whether you are a transport academic or not it is interesting to note the contrast and contradictions of thriving, busy, hot, overcrowded cities in China. Shanghai (population over 14 million) has a transport system that in my opinion seems to follow no rules. Traffic lights are barely even used as a loose guideline. Segregated cycle lanes are shared with motorbikes, electrical powered bikes (soon to be christened the “silent assassin”), pedestrians, taxis and anyone else wishing to use the pavement or to just continue their journey without stopping. Standing in the middle of a busy junction, as a pedestrian, it was like watching a beautifully choreographed dance, yet actually trying to cross a road on foot was a far less relaxing experience. I found my face only inches away from a public bus as it took a casual right turn in front of my legitimate green man crossing. And those silent assassins, well they appear without any warning, or lights or sound and will whizz passed you at any time, any place, and anywhere.
Catching a bus is also a challenge until you get used to crossing the above mentioned “cycle lane” first before you can enjoy a 20p bus journey with air conditioning and multi-language announcements. Getting off the bus is then your new mission, should you choose to accept it. The doors open and you are thrown back out into a new cycle lane with oncoming traffic traveling in all directions, at a variety of speeds that you need to dodge before reaching the path, which is another gauntlet run itself. Shanghai is famous for its pollution and while the sky is heavy, grey, and thick I noticed people wearing smog masks on the street, yet in complete contrast they were happy to smoke cigarettes inside nightclubs and bars.
Train stations in Shanghai are akin to airports, with security machines, ID checkpoints, body scanning and swarms of people. Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station is one of the three major railway stations in China with a total area of 1.3 million square meters, and is the largest railway station in Asia. The system contradicts itself with basic signage in both Mandarin and English, encouraging even the less intrepid traveller to feel at ease, but any automated system like ticket machines or luggage lockers will leave you dumbfounded, frustrated and completely dependent on the help of others. Statistically (according to Wikipedia) the train station waiting hall area is more than 10,000 square meters (107,639 square ft), and is capable of handling 10,000 passengers at the same time. The station serves 210,000 rail passengers per day and is built over 4 floors, plus a metro line (that connects to Pudong airport via the Maglev).
Trains themselves are comfortable, usually punctual, and efficient. The metro system is very comprehensive and like most transportation options here, is affordable at approx £2 for a day ticket. According to urbanrail.net “The Shanghai metro is among the most rapidly expanding in the world. After the first line opened only in 1995 as a north-south axis from the Central Station to the southern suburbs, by the end of 2015, the Shanghai Metro system had reached a total length of 531.5 km, excluding the Maglev”. That is bigger than the London underground, New York Subway, and the Paris Metro.