US infrastructure needs Belt and Road

By Rong Xiaoqing Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/29 18:28:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Despite the bitter struggles Donald Trump stirs between his supporters and opponents about, well, just anything, there is at least one thing the US president harps on about that just about everyone living in the US would agree with - the infrastructure of this country is like that of a Third World nation. This feels even truer when you travel to big cities in Asia like Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore or Tokyo and then come back to New York, the biggest city in the US. 

The railroad service is so slow that when I take a train from New York City to the state's capital Albany on the rail line built along the Hudson River, I often feel as if I am on a row boat. 

The airports offer few amenities and lots of flight delays. Last summer, when the New York state government finally invested money to revamp LaGuardia airport - which was first opened in 1939 - the traffic was so clogged up that on a particularly bad day, passengers had to leave the taxi well before they got to the terminal and walk the rest of the way.  

In July, Penn Station, the city's major railroad station, will undergo renovation after a number of meltdowns in recent years. Tens of thousands of commuters who work in Manhattan and live in Long Island, upper state New York or New Jersey may have to swap the railways for the city's subway system for at least part of their journeys while the renovations are done. This has prompted the State's Governor Andrew Cuomo to warn public transit passengers of a "summer of hell."

And the subway system, gosh, if you haven't encountered some horror stories on the subway, you are not a New Yorker. In a city where most people don't own a car, the subway system is its arteries and veins. So we persuade ourselves to be patient and tolerant despite massive issues.

Of course, we don't like the rats as big as cats and cockroaches as ubiquitous as ants running all over the platforms. We don't like the people eating fried chicken, taking their shoes off, playing loud music or doing their pole dancing on the train. We don't like the fire-and-brimstone preachers who tell a carriage that folks are going to burn in hell if they don't quickly discover his God. And we don't like the frequent services changes and rerouting due to seemingly endless construction work.

But that's fine. Although officials like to call ordinary people their clients, we know that we need the subway more than it needs us. We tend to shut our mouths as long as we can as we rely on the subway to take us to the place we need to go, within 15 minutes of the time we are supposed to be there.

But even this basic expectation has now become a luxury. Since April, the subway system has been partially paralyzed at least six times due to power issues, light signal issues, malfunction issues and many other different issues. It has happened a number of times during the morning rush hour, with passengers trapped in motionless trains for as long as an hour.

In one case earlier this month, two furious passengers jumped off a train and took the risk of getting an electric shock to walk in the tunnel to the next train station. If you think that was bad, wait a minute. On June 27, two cars of a crowded subway train derailed and injured a few dozens of people.

At a forum about China's Belt and Road initiative hosted by the Asia Society on June 14, the woes of New Yorkers got a lot of international sympathy. Xiao Weimin, deputy director for the Office of Western Development of China's National Development and Reform Commission, said that during his trip from the airport to the hotel, he found some parts of the infrastructure here are not even comparable to the less developed cities in West China. And Kevin Rudd, former prime minister of Australia and president of the Asia Society Policy Institute, quipped about New Yorkers' tolerance, "If the infrastructure was like this in Australia, there would have been riots."

The US is not on the "Belt and Road" map, as the initiative focuses on helping undeveloped countries that are struggling to find the money for infrastructure. But China may want to consider expanding the map.

After all, Governor Cuomo, after a public finger pointing match with Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, over who should take responsibility for the subway mess, has launched an international competition for proposals to improve the subway system. The winner will be awarded $1 million.

Before such a proposal emerges, is realized, and hits the target, we all have to learn how to take care of ourselves. For me, I try to do all my writing duties on the subway now. Sometimes, when I am developing a thought and verbalizing it on my iPad, I don't want the imminent approach of my destination to interrupt the process. That's the time when I find the halting nature of the train as it stops in the middle of tunnels for no clear reason every few minutes can actually be helpful.

But mind you, there is always another possibility. When I got on a train in downtown Manhattan, sat down and took out my iPad to write this piece on Sunday, the train seemed to be running well. Then at the next stop, the conductor had to ask the passengers to "stay clear of the closing doors please."

After repeating that about 20 times, she finally realized no one was holding the doors. It was a mechanical problem that kept the doors from closing.

We were all told to leave the train and left high and dry on the platform waiting for the next train, which - in my perception at least - was going to take forever.

I decided to walk for half an hour to get to my destination.

The author is a New York-based journalist. rong_xiaoqing@hotmail.com

Posted in: VIEWPOINT,RONG XIAOQING

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