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Urban railway: Key to Hanoi’s vision of multi-center city
Ngoc Mai 22:04, 2023/10/20
Planning for public transport-oriented development stands is a key solution to ignite the city’s breakthrough in socio-economic development.

Deputy Head of the Hanoi Metropolitan Railway Management Board (MRB) Le Trung Hieu shared with the Hanoimoi his views on the growing significance of public transportation, particularly urban railway, in tackling issues arising from the city’s rapid urbanization process. 

 MRB Deputy Head Le Trung Hieu.

What is your assessment of the present traffic conditions in the city and the progress of the urban railway projects executed by the MRB?

Hanoi’s existing traffic infrastructure system suffers from severe congestion, particularly during peak hours and adverse weather conditions such as heavy rain. Despite significant efforts and resources allocated by the authorities for infrastructure development, the rapid pace of urbanization and the escalating number of private vehicles have somewhat undermined these endeavors.

However, the city has made remarkable strides and serves as a national model by prioritizing investments in enhancing the bus network through subsidies. While the bus system has been instrumental in curbing private vehicle usage, it, too, has reached its operational limits. Traffic congestion also exerts a considerable impact on the efficiency and quality of bus services.

In 2022, a staggering 5,046 buses were forced to discontinue their services due to traffic gridlock. Urban railway lines have been identified as the linchpin of public transport, but progress on implementation has been hampered by policy and logistical challenges. As long as the infrastructure remains overburdened and the mass transit system is incomplete and hasn't consolidated its role, resolving congestion at its core will remain a formidable challenge.

Is there a need for a major shift in mindset and action concerning urban development planning, population distribution, and the advancement of public transportation?

Absolutely! Examining the success of thriving urban centers across the world underscores the central role of urban development and the extent of the public transportation system, with a particular emphasis on urban railways.

Take New York, for instance, where the subway is the most popular mode of public transit, with a network spanning 471 kilometers on 36 lines and serving a remarkable 472 stations. It carries nearly 6 million passengers daily, making it the fifth busiest railway system globally and the most active in the Western Hemisphere. Remarkably, New York's Metro has operated around the clock since its inception in 1904, living up to its nickname of "city that never sleeps."

Across Asia, the four Asian economic powerhouses—South Korea, Singapore, Taipei, and Hong Kong—all boast world-class and bustling urban railway systems.

In China, the extraordinary economic growth is intricately tied to the rapid expansion of the urban railway system, which has extended to over 9,500 kilometers by the end of 2022.

When delving deeper into the role of metro systems in urban planning and development, it becomes evident why cities worldwide are enthusiastic about investing in metro infrastructure. Beyond the direct benefits, such as time and cost savings and environmental benefits, metro systems have a range of indirect effects on overall urban planning. These include transformations in land usage, increased urban value, enhanced accessibility to jobs, higher incomes and labor productivity, improved connectivity among key areas, and an increase in the wealth of the region's residents.

What is your perspective on the emerging urban development model intertwined with public transportation leading to higher population density, particularly tailored for large cities (Transit-Oriented Development or TOD)?

Before the introduction of the urban rail system, it was unimaginable that New York would evolve into the world's preeminent city. The advent of the subway catalyzed the transformation of a previously impoverished neighborhood called Longacre Square into Times Square, fostered the expansion of a bustling financial hub around Wall Street station, and reshaped Coney Island into an amusement park accessible to the masses.

Across the globe, in Asia, Shanghai's eastern neighborhood was a collection of underdeveloped land until the opening of Metro Line No.2 in 1999, which connected the city's west and east, instantly revitalizing Pudong into a thriving financial and economic center.

Research on London's real estate market reveals that monthly or weekly rental prices for apartments near metro stations command a premium of around 10-20% compared to locations further away from the stations. Recent studies in Shanghai have shown that for every meter closer to a metro station, property prices increase by approximately CNY152/m2 (roughly US$21). Properties within walking distance of the nearest metro or rail station were 7.5% more expensive than other areas.

On the other hand, TOD not only profoundly alters urban structure and commuting patterns into an eco-friendly and convenient one but also generates additional financial resources by harnessing the potential of publicly-owned land. TOD provides easy and convenient access to transit stations, thereby increasing the utilization of public transportation and reducing reliance on personal vehicles.

 The Cat Linh - Ha Dong urban railway in Hanoi. Photo: Hai Linh/The Hanoi Times

Regarding generating financial resources, TOD planning serves as a critical foundation for generating revenue through land value appreciation in the stations' surrounding areas. The increase in the land use coefficient becomes a valuable asset to enhance land margins and capitalize on elevated space within the TOD urban core. The city can auction off the increased land use coefficient, generating funds to offset urban railway development costs. Some station-adjacent areas can even be developed into commercial real estate zones, including hotels and shopping centers, managed by the city to yield profits that can fund the cost of urban railway operation.

In leading developed nations worldwide, metro systems have ushered in dramatic transformations and prosperity. While Vietnam's progress may be slower, it can benefit from these exemplary experiences to achieve its goals more quickly.

How could the upcoming amended Capital Law shape the city’s public transportation?

The amended Capital Law Project incorporates TOD elements, which will make the deployment of urban railway lines in Hanoi more convenient. This has the potential to trigger a significant breakthrough, not only for the urban railway system but also for the construction of a "Green - Civilized - Smart - Modern" Capital.

This transformation is envisioned to position Hanoi as an economic and political powerhouse and a cultural beacon for the entire nation, becoming a central force in propelling the development of the Red River Delta, the northern key economic region, and the entire country. Deep international integration and heightened competitiveness with the region and the world are among the expected outcomes. Planning for public transport-oriented development stands is a pivotal solution. In the context of urban development founded upon a multi-center structure, the urban railway system is poised to play an indispensable and effective role.

In other positive news, on September 5, 2023, the State Appraisal Council issued Decision No.1514, approving the Appraisal Plan of the Pre-Feasibility Study Report for Hanoi's urban railway line number 5 (Van Cao - Ngoc Khanh - Lang - Hoa Lac).

Line 5, designed as a  double track with a 1,435mm gauge, will be electrified and run over a length of 38.43 kilometers, of which 6.5 kilometers is underground, 2 kilometers on elevated track, and 29.93 kilometers above ground. This line has 21 stations, including six underground stations, one elevated station, and 14 ground stations.

The line passes through several districts, including Ba Dinh, Dong Da, Cau Giay, Nam Tu Liem, Hoai Duc, Quoc Oai, and Thach That. A segment of the line passes through the central area with a high population density, while the remainder traverses developing urban areas, especially the Hoa Lac satellite urban area.

The project is anticipated to alleviate population density in inner-city areas, thus stimulating economic growth in less affluent districts and facilitating population redistribution in core urban zones, aligning with the goal of industrialization and modernization for sustainable development. Most notably, this project will be the first to capitalize on increased land value to fund its expansion, which is unprecedented.

These developments are promising signs that offer hope for robust future growth and prosperity.

 Thank you for your time!

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