Traffic - Danger or Menace?
by Henrietta Wang
Beijing's transport system again faced severe problems this month as roads became blocked and tempers flared. In what some drivers declared as "disorder" (luan), traffic ground to a standstill at most major junctions, bridges and traffic lights twice every day "for a long time". The problems occurred because "there are too many cars in Beijing", according to one transport expert. I was assured that the problem was nothing to do with the common occurrence wherein two opposing lines of traffic were expected to cross one another with no (mei you) traffic control system of any effectiveness to speak of. Equally, the rumour that lines of buses pulling in and out of lanes - and stopping on mainroads in heavy traffic exacerbate the problem - was also met with incredulous stares and repeated mention of "too many cars".
If you want evidence for the poor traffic situation, you need only to listen to the traffic hot-spot reports on Beijing's radio stations. In many major cities of the world, these reports run for approx. 10-15 minutes, but in Beijing, the high number of traffic jams has often resulted in each of these reports lasting for several hours. "We can't keep up", explained Mr Zhao (head of Beijing Music Radio) "we lost a DJ last week to dehydration whilst he was trying to complete the 07:17 traffic flash". The DJ in question was reading the names of "junctions, bridges and traffic lights for over 17 hours. Tapes prove that he finally collapsed at forty three minutes past midnight, with only three lines left to read." The report in question was finished by a plucky late night cleaner who was sweeping in a neighbouring booth when he realised that the list had stopped without the signature "HAVE A PLEASANT JOURNEY TO WORK" tag-line. The cleaner was later fired for breaching the "no swearing on air" clause of all employment contracts at Beijing Music Radio.
And it is not just the radio DJs who are suffering, the severe traffic jams are now effecting even the capital's drivers. One such driver, Miss Liu, experienced daily difficulties in the mornings and afternoons since she began driving seven years ago. "At first I thought that the traffic jam was a one off, but when it occurred in the afternoon, and then again on the second day, and following that twice a day up until now, I realised that my initial assessment was ambitious at best, and at worst, naive." Miss Liu asserts "the problem is because of too many cars, and has nothing to do with a traffic system which relies on frequent lane changes to get to access roads which often clash with the main traffic flows at key intersections." Miss Liu is certain that there is nothing that can be done to help the problem, and has decided to just accept it and just use the horn more, a strategy common in Italy during the 1960s and more recently Sao Paulo in the 1970s.
Professor Irvin Zhou, head of transport science at the Shenzhen Traffic monitoring BBS, Near Hong Kong, emailed us uninvited with this statement re. the Beijing Road System:
"We have just finished an information analysis of the Beijing problem, and have reached the following conclusions:
A: If there were no Vehicles on the road in Beijing, then there would be no traffic problem.
B: Currently V>0. (When V is the number of vehicles on the roads)
Thus C: There are too many cars on the road in Beijing, which is the only logical explanation for the current jams.
With so much evidence to support this, I too must agree that the traffic is simply the result of too many cars, and not at all due to a traffic system wherein drivers can jump ahead of queues by driving along the side roads and cutting back in further up the road unhindered, or wherein drivers can easily buy fake licenses without ever having to take a test.
(Since this report was submitted, everybody mentioned above has discovered that someone in their family or workplace has suffered a personal tragedy.)