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Marc Wandschneider is a professional software developer with well over fifteen years of industry experience (yes, he really is that old). He travels the globe working on interesting projects and gives talks at conferences and trade shows whenever possible.

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Posted to: Things I've learned about CoreImage (and Quartz, and OpenGL) in two weeks
Aug 01, 2009 | 05:18:00
The Beijing Subway: Feeling the Pace of Growth in China
By marcwan

One of the things I have always enjoyed about Asia is the feeling of constant change. As a self-confessed junkie of experiences new and different, I find seeing everything slightly different every day soothing and intriguing, as opposed to stressful and disorienting. Watching a country like China not only change and evolve, but do so in a loony-short period of time is nothing short of intoxicating. While many people I know don’t exactly understand the scope or speed of these changes, I have a perfect example to show this: The Beijing subway system.

When I first moved here in 2006, the subway system was dominated by Line 1 – the straight east-west line – and line 2 – the line that follows the second ring road around the core of the inner city. Add in an extension in the east and a big sweeping line to try and catch the area north of the city, and you have the following map:

Creative Commons images from Wikimedia - Click to expand

As an interesting side note, while circular subways and roads look really pretty on paper, I firmly believe they are an urban planning disaster. The rest of your transportation system basically degenerates into short straight routes to get people onto those circular systems, which then become massively overloaded and break down, yet remain the only way to get around anywhere. Witness Beijing’s 5 ring roads. The inner 2nd Ring Road is a giant parking lot. The 3rd, with a radius maybe 3km wider, is also a mess. Only the 4th and 5th Ring Roads, which stay well away from the city, finally have reasonable traffic. But to get anywhere, you basically have to still get on the 2nd or 3rd rings, which means you’re not going anywhere fast in this city.

Fast forward two short and very exciting years to the 2008 Olympic games, and the Beijing subway system already looks like this:

Creative Commons images from Wikimedia - Click to expand

Ignoring the Feng Shui people screaming about how asymmetric or ugly the new lines are, the city is trying new lines that cut across key neighbourhoods requiring coverage, and also trying to get people to other key neighbourhoods (i.e. Guomao where Lines 10 and 1 meet up) without pushing them onto the circular Line 2. The new Airport Express line lets you choose between Lines 10, 2, or the giant Dongzhimen Bus Terminal, which is right where it meets the Line 2 station.

This is what we have now, although the map will be out of date in 6-8 weeks: Line 4 from the Northwest corner of the city down to Beijing South Station (trains) will be opening then.

But the city is still woefully undercovered by subway tracks. Unlike other metropolitan areas, however (poor Toronto comes to mind), that limp along with outdated and overused undergrounds, the Chinese are determined to solve this. Behold the plan for the next 6 years.

Creative Commons images from Wikimedia - Click to expand

The nice thing is? It will happen. From simple and toy like to world-class in 10 years. Nice.

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