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Personal Cars and China
have been those related to equity issues. Although technological improvements and capital investments in transportation have improved social welfare in general, they also have often widened the gap between those who can afford automobiles and those who cannot. To the extent that modern land use patterns are highly affected by the automobile, the result is that car ownership has become necessary to take full advantage of the commercial and residential opportunities and of the services that modern societies can provide. In the United States, the disadvantaged are primarily the elderly, the young, and the poor, yet today less than 10 percent of American families lack cars. In China, however, large urban populations will not have cars for many years, and for a long period car owners and non–car owners will both be large parts of the population. In some countries these populations live in separate communities, sometimes distinguishing urban and suburban areas.
This chapter explores how rapid motorization will affect the quality of life and livelihood of the Chinese people. In view of the complexity of the changing social and economic structure in China, it is clear that isolating the changes arising from motorization alone will be very difficult. Some 10 years of a 15 percent a year rise in motorization in general and a more rapid increase in the number of automobiles have had a very large impact on China. Urban congestion, air pollution, changes in urban transport modal shares, massive construction of transportation facilities, and decentralization of residence and employment are the principal consequences (Midgley, 1994).
The earliest and greatest effects of motorization will appear in the cities (see Chapter 2). For one thing, most of the new vehicles will appear in urban areas because urban incomes are higher than those elsewhere in China and because they will no doubt continue rising the fastest. Furthermore, the cities have an especially delicate ecology of space use—very high residential densities and a low proportion of space dedicated to streets (around 10 percent)—designed as they were by planners who, before the late 1980s, had no reason to believe there was any need to provide for significant numbers of private motor vehicles. As a result, Chinese cities are subject to great dynamic forces as people struggle to travel in increasingly congested conditions while they seek opportunities at the urban periphery made accessible by increased car ownership.
Because these issues will arise within the context of a rapidly changing urban structure, any examination of the effects of motorization requires a careful look at the process of change itself.
EFFECTS OF THE MOTORIZATION PROCESS
Motorization is likely to have severe interim effects before the automobile reaches an accommodation with its surroundings. For example,