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LONGFORM

Smart and Green

Xiongan New Area is set to become a regional transport center to advance the coordinated development of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region. But will it avoid the pitfalls of other large cities?

By Min Jie Updated Jan.7

Xiongan New Area’s urban plan is yet to be released, but details of the proposed transportation system have surfaced which suggest planners are focused on “green” and “smart” options. An efficient transport network is one of the central government’s main tasks in building the zone, with a framework expected to be finished by 2020. Less than 150km from Beijing and Tianjin, and less than 200km from the Hebei capital Shijiazhuang, Xiongan is flagged as the future transport hub of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region.  

All Roads Lead to Xiongan 
Wang Zhigang is head of the planning and construction department of Xiongan New Area’s management committee. He points to convenience and proximity to regional centers as primary reasons for the choice of location.  

Currently, a bullet train that links Tianjin and Baoding, in Hebei Province, passes through Xiongan with a stop at Baiyangdian, around 10km away. The region also has a comprehensive traffic network of expressways, national highways and provincial arterial roads.  

“The proximity to Beijing, Tianjin and Baoding as well as the new Beijing airport, which is only 55km away, has made Xiongan a crucial area within the transport network of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region,” Wang told NewsChina.  

Despite this, he said there was still a long way to go before Xiongan could become a new national area. Currently, only two trains per day link Xiongan with Beijing, and covering the distance by road takes from one and a half to two hours.  

The first step will be to construct a high-speed railway station in Xiongan, said Xu Kuangdi, director of a council of experts for coordinated development of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, during a forum in June 2017. On completion, it will take 41 minutes to travel from Xiongan to Beijing.  

Liu Binglian, head of the College of Economic and Social Development at Nankai University in Tianjin and vice chairman of the China Society of Logistics, said the central government’s thinking behind Xiongan went further than simply phasing out some of the noncapital functions of Beijing. He told our reporter that there are six main city clusters in the world, and the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region will strive to become the seventh, with Beijing at the core, but with Xiongan playing a key strategic role.  

“Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei are three administrative regions which are loosely connected. Xiongan New Area will connect the entire region more effectively,” Liu said. “The development of Xiongan is a crucial step in building a world-class city cluster which will drive economic growth in northern China and play the role of a new transport hub within the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region.”  

Planners will aim to install a system that allows travel between Xiongan and the cities of Beijing, Tianjin and Shijiazhuang within half an hour, he said. To achieve that, a strong rail transit network was the obvious choice.  In the Transportation Integration Outline of the Coordinated Development of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei released in 2015, eight key tasks were proposed, including constructing an efficient rail transit network comprised of arterial railways, inter-city railways and an urban railway system.  

In the opinion of Li Guoping, head of Peking University’s Beijing Development Institute, careful planning is crucial before a concrete layout of Xiongan’s transport system is made, and policymakers must take into consideration the region’s population growth.  

“A city with a population of one million needs a totally different transportation system from a city of five million or 10 million,” Li told NewsChina. Xiongan should grow carefully to prevent a population explosion, he said, and should aim to have about two million residents by 2030. Building a city of more than 10 million was both unrealistic and unnecessary, he said.  

Policymakers should also be clear about the new area’s scale, positioning, role and target population before designing the transport system to ensure it is efficient and low-cost.  

Early Inoculation 
According to a number of urban planning experts with direct knowledge of the Xiongan project, the region has multiple missions, including blazing a new development path driven by innovation, while inoculating itself against the urban ills that have plagued many major Chinese cities in recent years.  

Liu Dacheng, deputy director of the Internet Industry Research Institute at Tsinghua University, said the rapid growth of Beijing had brought serious urban problems, including logistical pressure, overpopulation, air pollution and traffic congestion.  

Official statistics showed that Beijing’s population rose to over 21.7 million in 2016 even as the local government worked to enforce a total population cap of 23 million by 2020. A majority of residents work in the city center, but more than half of its population is relegated to suburban areas on the outskirts of the city, which has increased the pressure on transport networks.  

Beijing has led China in consumption for the past nine years. In 2016 alone, 240 million tons of goods were transported around the city, mainly by road. Liu said trade logistics had seriously injured the city’s already fragile transportation system and that all of these issues would provide important lessons for Xiongan.  

According to a circular jointly released by the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council in April 2017, Xiongan’s development will help explore a new model of optimized development in densely populated areas, and restructure the urban layout of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region.  

“The influx of either large State-owned enterprises, affiliated institutions of the government, research institutes or universities will unavoidably form a brand new consumption-driven economy,” Liu said.“It will be a challenge to build an efficient transportation network free from severe traffic jams.”  Liu Binglian of Nankai University told our reporter it was vital to create a detailed outline of Xiongan’s transport system that includes its precise city positioning, including the layout of industries and residential areas to avoid the gridlock of “treatment after congestion.”  

During the international urban planning bidding round, one Italian company suggested private vehicles should be banned from the new city, generating heated discussion. Li Xiaojiang, former head of the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design, said while Xiongan would work to offer a high-quality public transport system, it was “too idealistic” to try to build a car-free city. “We hope the vehicles will have lower emissions and high efficiency,” he said.  

Wang Zhigang of the Xiongan New Area planning and construction department told our reporter that even though the transport layout was yet to be released, it was clear that the current traffic network of Xiongan had to be redefined.  

“There will be no arterial roads in the region. As a livable city, Xiongan will prohibit the sort of ring roads seen in many big cities to prevent disorderly urban sprawl,” he said.  

Moving Underground 
During a forum on the development of Chinese cities in June 2017, Xu Kuangdi announced that in drafting the general plan of Xiongan New Area, the region would place its main urban transit system, bullet train stops, water, electricity and gas pipelines, as well as the disaster prevention system, underground.  

Underground pipelines are described as the blood vessels and nervous system of modern cities. In June 2017, China’s State Council released a directive to advance the construction of comprehensive underground pipelines in Chinese cities to ease the overcrowding brought by rapid urbanization.  

Li Xiaojiang told our reporter that it remains to be seen whether the entire transport network of Xiongan will be built underground. He said holistic thinking was needed to put the bulk of transport facilities underground, including careful planning around safety, cost and management.  

“China’s bullet trains usually have a speed of 350km per hour which will cause annoying noise, but wide greenbelts will reduce noise. In addition, it will also be a good option to build overpasses,” he said.“We will take full advantage of underground space but will not go to the extreme.”

Transportation in Xiongan will mainly focus on rail and bus transit options, complemented by bike-sharing and other “green, advanced and highly intelligent” transportation options, said Lu Huapu, head of the Institute of Transport Engineering at Tsinghua University and a member of the expert committee advising the coordinated development of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region. He told the Xinhua News Agency that public transport, parking, traffic management and logistics in Xiongan will all be supported by smart systems.  

The Scientific Research Institute of the Ministry of Transport is currently leading the research on green and smart transport options in Xiongan New Area.  

“Vehicles using clean energy will hit the roads in Xiongan, driven by electricity generated by renewable resources, including photovoltaics, solar, wind and hydro power. It is likely that no gas stations will exist in Xiongan,” Wang Zhigang said. 
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