Sunday, December 9, 2012

Polycentric Moscow: overcoming transport collapse

Polycentric Moscow: overcoming transport collapse

By Anna Bakaykina

Modern Moscow is a classical representation of monocentric city. Approximately 70 % of all workplaces are concentrated in the area of ​​6.5 km from the Kremlin, whereas people mostly live in the suburbs (e.g., the population density of the Zyabliko district, located 17 km away from the city center, is 2.2 times larger than density in Arbat district located 1 km from the Kremlin. This can be explained by the bid-rent theory - moving away from the city center the prices for accommodation significantly decrease. So, a one-room apartment rent in Khimki is almost half that of one in the North-Western Administrative Districtof Moscow ($581.8 versus $1043.37, respectively,
However, this monocentric structure directly causes the severe transportation problem. Everyday a huge flow of Muscovites travels from their homes to the workplaces and the other way round (so-called “pendulum migration”). Along with the underdeveloped transport infrastructure (leading to one of the worst estimated commuting time in the world) and existing radial transportation system, it creates huge traffic jams and metro overload. Thus, every day the capital metro is overloaded by 20 % on average and typical traffic jam lasts 2.5 hours daily (Moscow is 8th in the world in terms of traffic jam duration). The current situation can be characterized as transport collapse.

Several separate steps can be implemented to cope with this problem, but they will unlikely have any real significant effect. Thus complex solution is needed. The concept of policentricity – the formation of several clusters of economic activity within one city – seems to be an effective solution for the Moscow case. Such capitals as Paris, London, Tokyo chose a similar path of development several decades ago by creating new poles of jobs concentration and relieving the historic center. Modern theory in this case is perfectly consistent with the existing practice*.
Permeated with the spirit of the polycentricity and the prospect of becoming a world financial center, the Russian government decided to create the Moscow metropolitan area (“Big Moscow”). This project provides for an expanding more than two-fold in area of the capital (from 1,070 squarekilometers to 2,560 sq km) with the establishment of multiple clusters (including medical, innovative and educational clusters) and relocation of several Federal authorities (e.g. Parliament and Supreme Court) to new greenfield sites. It also suggests the creation of an efficient transport infrastructure, in particular, development of chordwise directions, and putting into operation a total of 23 new metro stations by 2018. Special emphasis will be placed on an improvement of existing public transport system by an introduction of intelligent transport systems, creation of wide range of transport hubs, opening of passenger traffic in the small ring of the Moscow railway and integrating it with the functioning of underground.
Nevertheless, real economic effects from this project remain unclear. In short-term period, it is quite unlikely that there will be any real effect, because a simple change in administrative status of attached territories will not add more incentives to firms to reallocate. And terrain characteristics stay the same: there are still transport problems, and the population density is still low (compared to the "Old Moscow" and other areas of the Moscow region). Concerning pendulum migration, the flows will not change until real improvements in transport infrastructure and the development of chordwise directions.  The only thing that might change the situation in the short-term is the decision to relocate public institutions, but this effect is not likely to be significant because it can only accelerate the creation of infrastructure and this also will take time. Otherwise, the level of wages will stay the same because it depends on the demand and supply on local labor market. As income of people will not change, the level of local prices will not be also affected by this process.
Considering the long-term prospect, changes might occur but they mostly depend on the development of the full range of infrastructure, including social infrastructure (which besides transport includes health, education, housing). Only in this case an overflow of the economic activity from the "Old Moscow" and other areas of the Moscow region will be observed. However, the development of the “Big Moscow” 90 % of which is currently covered by forests, fields and villages  – will take time and will need to solve some existing issues. For example, it is impossible to create accommodation with the current absence of the proper water supply, for which two solutions have been proposed – to drill wells or to build a reservoir near Podolsk.  But the first will raise the level of prices on accommodation to premium class level (and will be provided mostly by private companies), which of course will not provide additional incentive for people to move there, whereas the second needs direct involvement of the authorities and huge state investments.
Despite the fact that the project itself looks very convincing in solving the existing problem of transport collapse, it is quite unlikely to expect real effect of it in the nearest future. Moreover, any real success can appear only in case of using integrated approach.

* The classical monocentric Von Thünen (1826) model extended later by Alonso (1964), Mills (1967), Muth (1969) and Fujita (1989) lost its position in comparison with emerging polycentric models (e.g. Anas and Kim, 1986), which are able to describe more complex patterns through interaction of agglomeration and dispersion. 


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