Wednesday, August 25, 2010

And You Think You Have a Rough Commute?

"China Traffic Jam Could Last Weeks"
The Wall Street Journal (August 24, 2010)

"A 60-mile traffic jam near the Chinese capital could last until mid-September, officials say.

"Traffic has been snarled along the outskirts of Beijing and is stretching toward the border of Inner Mongolia ever since roadwork on the Beijing-Tibet Highway started Aug. 13. The following week, parts of a major road circling Beijing were closed, further tightening overburdened roadways.

"As the jam on the highway, also known as National Highway 110, passed the 10-day mark Tuesday, local authorities dispatched hundreds of police to keep order and to reroute cars and trucks carrying essential supplies, such as food or flammables, around the main bottleneck. There, vehicles were inching along little more than a third of a mile a day. Zhang Minghai, director of Zhangjiakou city's Traffic Management Bureau general office, said in a telephone interview he didn't expect the situation to return to normal until around Sept. 17 when road construction is scheduled to be finished and traffic lanes will open up...."

Here in Minnesota, there's a joke that we have four seasons: fall, winter, spring, and road work. The Lemming can expect the usual route from one town to another to be blocked - maybe not every summer, but fairly often.

Our roads are okay: it's this state's crazy climate. We've got everything from jungle-level heat and humidity to subarctic storms. Sometimes in the same month.

One thing about living in Minnesota: It's not boring.

Back to China and that 60-mile, multi-week traffic jam.

It looks like their problem can be boiled down to one word: infrastructure.

"...Though triggered by construction, the root cause for the congestion is chronic overcrowding on key national arteries. Automobile sales in China whizzed past the U.S. for the first time last year, as Chinese bought 13.6 million vehicles, compared with 9.4 million vehicles in 2008. China is racing to build new roads to ease the congestion, but that very construction is making traffic problems worse—at least temporarily.

"China's roads suffer from extra wear and tear from illegally overloaded trucks, especially along key coal routes. Coal supplies move from Mongolia through the outskirts of the capital on their way to factories. There are few rail lines to handle the extra load. Though the current massive gridlock is unusual, thousands of trucks line up along the main thoroughfares into Beijing even on the best days...."

It's a temptation to say something witty about the state of China's road system, but I think that, under the circumstances, they're doing fairly well.

Part of the current traffic issue is that more folks living there can afford automobiles. Considering who's been running the country for the last several decades, that - and having roads that are in good enough shape to have a traffic jam - are remarkable accomplishments.

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