Road Raged in Beijing
by Delilah Sheraton
Christmas is upon us once again, and anyone who's been to Beijing knows that the laws of traffic are governed through mass chaos. A bike is still your best friend in terms of the fastest, cleanest, and most economical mode of transport in the city. But it's not exactly your safest means of getting around. Much like the rest of China, just with an exponential multiple of people, the traffic system in Beijing is something like a social Darwin experiment, where only the fortunate will survive.
To be on a bike in Beijing is a lot like entering the frontline of battle. The biker must always be on the offense. Even though almost every Beijinger has gripped the handlebars at some point in life, once behind the wheel, there is no love for the cyclist. No one makes way for the bike, be it a pedestrian, taxi, or bus. It only follows that in addition to bike theft, bicycle accidents are a common city problem.
Sometimes a collision is with another biker, sometimes it's smack in the face with an oblivious jay walking pedestrian. Other times it's the taxi door of a clueless passenger who just paid their fare. It's this last variety, the car versus the bike variety, that is by far the most dangerous crash of them all, and yet remains to be a seemingly common occurrence.
As driver's licenses are being passed out today in Beijing like the cigarette ration coupons of yesterday, individual cars have spread across the roads like a cancer. There is always a traffic jam in the nation's capital, and you can easily spend 30 minutes to travel 30 km on any given day, at any particular time.
For bikers, cars are the bane of existence. Although most major roads in Beijing include bike lanes, it's almost impossible, especially at intersections, that a bicycle won't come into contact with its road-hogging, air-polluting nemesis. Over the last nine months that I've lived in this city, I've witnessed more than 10 bike accidents, 8 of which were with cars, and I'm just a foot soldier.
Furthermore, road rage has become a common phenomenon in Beijing. This is a condition, involving drivers threatening and damaging the property of other drivers, that's been cited in America over the last 10 years. One incident in California involved a man pitching a female driver's 6lb Maltese dog across a 4-lane highway like a softball.
As far as what causes road rage in China, family practitioner/psychologist, Victor Si explains the cause to be "hyper-stress". Dr. Si noted that "In the sea of Chinese drivers, thousands have the emotional balance of monkeys locked in small cages. They are mere time bombs waiting to go off. Especially the haemorrhoid-sporting underpaid taxi drivers, who ingest carbon monoxide all day."
Most of these accidents, if serious, are reported to the police. In the waiting period it takes for the authorities to arrive, many drivers take the opportunity to berate the cyclist for being such a moron and getting in the way of traffic. Once on the scene, the police officer will compile the usual evidence; a) one somewhat damaged, typically mangled, bike, b) one possibly dented car with perhaps some scratched paint, c) the minor or major injuries to the cyclist, and d) the eye witness reports of at least ten gawking bystanders.
Of course, the ever increasing atmosphere of road rage is bad news for bikers. As one aggro driver who could only be identified by his license plate E H2165 rationalised, "What else can I do [but crash] if I honk my horn long and hard three or four times and a bicycle doesn't get out of the way?"
Hu Hao, a 41 year old taxi driver in Beijing, considers bike accidents to be a mere occupational hazard. "This year I've hit 17 bicyclists," said Hu. "Most of the accidents were not my fault," explained Hu, "they've been with wai di ren, or stupid peasants that don't know what they're doing on the road." [spit] "It's true, twelve of them had to be hospitalized," [spit,spit], "but that's what they deserve for being so stupid in the first place."
Although the government recently amended some of its traffic laws to include granting the right of way to pedestrians, clearly it is still unsafe on the streets for the average bicyclist. Ergo, it must be said that as long as bicycles remain to be the annoying ticks on the big ass of the elephant, bikers should take care and be wary of rage.