USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

The accessibility brings me to tiers…

Zhongshan Avenue

While Los Angeles was spending over one billion U.S. dollars this summer to add a lane to the already impossibly congested 405 freeway, the people of Guangzhou were enjoying their brand new Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT).  The system, which includes 22.5 kilometers of segregated bus lanes, 26 stations, and 40 bus routes which enter and leave the BRT corridor (which runs along Zhongshan Avenue, see section through street), has only been open since 2010 and already services over eighty thousand riders at each station per day.  In just one year, people have embraced the BRT wholeheartedly, and by choosing it over cars or taxis they are thus helping to improve overall traffic speed and flow.  Moreover, what is merely the icing on the cake is that the system has helped eliminate fifty thousand tons of CO2 emissions in its first year due to fewer bus kilometers driven.

As it was only possible to build the BRT by dedicating five lanes of Zhongshan Avenue—a major east-west thoroughfare of Guangzhou—to the project, the system made use of the ‘old’ and turned it into the ‘new,’ requiring that barely any new infrastructure be built.  The entire project only cost about ¥1.3 billion (just under $190 million), just one tenth of the initial cost that was required to build the metro.  Planning was begun in 2005, and the system was already in full swing by 2010.  Conversely construction on the Los Angeles County Metro Rail, which is a comparatively inefficient system, was not begun until 1985 despite having been conceived a whole nine years prior.  Today, the eight year to twenty-one year old LA system has an average weekday ridership of fewer than four hundred thousand, while the BRT enjoys a daily rate of 2.08 million users.  And yet, with only three on-grade crosses, the BRT affects the flow of traffic very little.  (In fact, it is essentially an aboveground subway system.)

Successful transportation systems move their users through tiers, and the new orange busses of the Guangzhou BRT are level two of a five-tier configuration.  To compare, Los Angeles is primarily a one-tier arrangement—the car—with even the pedestrian level being obliterated.  If tier one of Guangzhou’s approach to public transit is the city’s metro (three BRT stations have direct transfers to the metro), and three is the existing city bus, then

BRT bike station

four, which is perhaps the most innovative component of the BRT, is the bike share component.  Every BRT bus stop neighbors a bike station filled with recognizable orange bicycles (to match the busses, of course) where riders holding a transit pass can check out a bike which is free for the first hour, then only ¥2 ($.31) for each additional hour.  The idea behind this is that the system can branch into areas of the city (i.e. the urban villages) that public transit could not previously access.  In the future, these electronically-monitored ‘satellite’ stations will be installed deep within the villages, so that migrant workers can get off the bus, ride a bike home, and then ride one back to the bus the following day.

In one example after another, it is proven that not only is the BRT beautifully engineered for expediency and efficiency, but that it also provides mobility for the populace, not the rich.  By collecting and incorporating the existing city lines into the BRT, the existing system had to change very little, which was both civically cost effective and socially sensitive in that it did not upset the routines of the regular users.  And, although car users are said to dislike it, the traffic congestion in the car lanes does not seem to have changed much since the segregated bus lanes were introduced.  Moreover, at a cost of only ¥3 ($.47) per journey no matter how far one is travelling, these lower class migrant workers who reside within the aforementioned villages truly can afford to utilize the BRT.

The new combined arrangement covers over ninety kilometers. One can travel about 29 kilometers in one hour, and at any point along the BRT segment of Zhongshan Avenue one can get off the bus to enjoy a meal at a number of fast food restaurants that have opened up since the BRT stations were established, then get back on quite soon if so inclined, since there are busses every ten minutes. It seamlessly connects to the urban fabric in spite of its young age.  In fact, my exploration of the BRT and its surrounding parasitic program was the first time I understood Guangzhou urbanistically, despite having already been there for a week.  And the whole activity only cost me ¥6…

Section through street


Filed under: Automobile, Car, comparison to Los Angeles, Infrastructure, innovation, Los Angeles, Parasitic, pedestrians, Public Transportation, traffic, Urban Village

Tokyo // A Metropolis that Others Strive to Be

After experiencing most of my college education at USC in Los Angeles, AAU study abroad has given me a breath of fresh air even if it has only been 4 days into the trip. The months of waiting has finally culminated to the start of an amazing journey. Our first destination is Tokyo, a city where public transportation and pedestrian circulation eliminates the use of a car.

The differences between the Los Angeles and Tokyo were tremendously obvious right when I stepped foot into the hotel. Instead of a ground floor lobby space typically seen in Los Angeles, there was a large space that acted as interstitial lobby distributing users to their respective areas within the tower. After 24+ of traveling, all I wanted to do was get to my room and sleep. Why was it so complicated to not have a lobby on the first floor to greet us weary travelers? My American thinking was obviously not appropriate to view Japan. After a good night’s rest, I set out to SEE the city and the complicated layering systems that made it function seamlessly.

Because the sprawl of Tokyo is limited, many buildings have to rise vertically in order to have the most efficient use of space. The tower has multiple tenants including our lobby that starts at the 25th floor. In Los Angeles, a 25th floor lobby would be unacceptable, yet the hotels here work regardless of its vertical location in the building. Underneath the ground floor, a retail space and subway access relieves a significant amount of pedestrian congestion. The subway is located at the lowest level, and as people proceed upwards, they are surrounded by retail space. Thus the businesses are able to thrive even below the ground plane. The relationships among the layered programs all work in harmony, creating a sophisticated and “hybrid” condition. Offices, hotels, restaurants, residences, and other amenities can exist all in one building, making it extremely convenient for the occupants to the point that they don’t even have to step foot outside!

By wandering a few meters past the hotel underground, I was able to catch a glimpse of Japan’s sophisticated program and circulation system. I compared it to Los Angeles, a place I am most familiar with, and Tokyo made it look like an infant city. I have to drive to every destination I decide to go to because of the city’s XY axis of development. How could someone who grew up in Los Angeles go against it? Well, it feels GREAT to not have to fill up on gas or have responsibility taking care of a car. I don’t have to find parking, stress about driving, or spend time looking for it in a parking garage. Also, if Los Angeles had a more developed and streamline public transportation system, I could SEE the city from a pedestrian perspective rather than a car’s. The drastic change in pace really affected the detail of my observation. For example, in Tokyo, I was able to look at the detail of construction by walking on the pedestrian sky bridge, but in a car, I would never be able to experience anything close to that level of detail. I finally get to use my senses to hear, smell, taste, feel, and SEE the many layers that comprise of the city.

Even though this is only the beginning of the trip, my analysis and experiences have altered drastically. It is not another semester inside a classroom, listening to lectures and doing studio work. My objective is to understand the “architecture” of the city and see the effectiveness of different strategies and consider the possibility of a better one. It’s my first topic studio and I feel extremely grateful to visit all these sites to both broaden my architectural education and enhance the kinesthetic learning experience.


Filed under: America, Architecture, comparison to Los Angeles, Hybrid Building, Japan, Public Transportation, Tokyo, Urbanism


The views and opinions contained in this blog are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent the views and opinions of the University of Southern California or any of its officers or trustees.



AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu