Barely a year after it started operations, the Lanzhou bus rapid transit (BRT) system has shown how this cost-effective mass transit solution can ease traffic congestion as well as reduce the city's carbon footprint.
Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu Province, serves as a transportation hub between the eastern and western regions of the People's Republic of China (PRC). It was one of the major points on the ancient Silk Road.
Today, Lanzhou is a highly industrialized city experiencing the ill effects of rapid urbanization, including traffic congestion and pollution. In response, the municipal government has adopted an urban master plan that will disperse economic activity to less developed areas by transforming the Anning district on the north side of the Yellow River as a second city center.
“The master plan faced many challenges - from the acquisition of land necessary for the new city center and the associated resettlement issues, to environmental and other sustainability considerations. A key issue was how to respond to the growing transport demand, given that private vehicle usage was already rising by 20% per annum,” says Ki-Joon Kim, senior transport specialist at ADB's East Asia Department. “Originally, the master plan focused on urban road network expansion. However, this would not have solved the challenges expected to arise - traffic congestion, road and pedestrian safety issues, air and noise pollution, and more.”
Sustainable urban transport system
With assistance from ADB, the plan was redesigned to instead establish a sustainable urban transport system in Lanzhou with the bus rapid transit (BRT) system as the centerpiece project.
BRT is a bus-based mass transit system with some features similar to a light rail or metro system but costs 10 times less and is quicker to construct. It offers faster and more reliable services than regular buses. BRT buses travel on a corridor, typically aligned to the center of the road with dedicated lanes or busways. Commuters pay the fare at the BRT station before boarding the bus.
BRT plays an important role in the global effort to reduce emissions of the transport sector by encouraging commuters to use public transportation instead of their motor vehicles.
The initial stage of the Lanzhou BRT system features 15 weather-protected stations and six routes along a 9-kilometer corridor. It is the first BRT system in the world to have split stations, enabling buses running in the same direction to stop on both sides of the platform. It uses an advanced bus management system for monitoring and optimizing BRT operation in real-time. There are currently 50 special 12-meter, low-floor BRT buses running on compressed natural gas, with doors on both sides, and 20 18-meter BRT buses. Each bus has a global positioning system unit that provides passengers with real-time information on the arrival of the next bus.
"The Lanzhou sustainable transport system has proven that integrating sustainability in city development plans is a cost-effective strategy."
- Ki-Joon Kim, senior transport specialist at ADB's East Asia Department
The Lanzhou BRT system began operations on 28 December 2012. In January 2013, it carried 110,000 passengers a day. By September 2013, the number of passengers has risen to 290,000. Within nine months of operation, Lanzhou was also able to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 11,804 tons.
A project of many "firsts"
The Lanzhou Sustainable Urban Transport Project is ADB's first BRT project in the PRC. This is also the first ADB transport project to support preparation of an application for certification under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol, which will provide revenue that can help offset some of the costs of running the BRT system.
CDM components of the Lanzhou project include promoting nonmotorized transport by providing dedicated 3.5- to 5-meter-wide bicycle access lanes between sidewalks and carriage lanes and bicycle parking facilities at the BRT stations. For pedestrians, walkways and underground passageways were constructed. The project also integrated some 280 trees along Gunhuang Road in Qilihe into the BRT corridor instead of cutting them down. The trees line the separation belts that divide motorized from nonmotorized traffic in Qilihe.
"The Lanzhou sustainable transport system has proven that integrating sustainability in city development plans is a cost-effective strategy," says Kim. "In a city that was facing the ill effects of rapid urbanization, it has helped improve the mobility, health, and economy of Lanzhou and is contributing to sustainable economic growth, effective environmental improvement, and an overall improved quality of urban life."