Beijing traffic jam photo courtesy of Proggie (this is not the 100KM traffic jam)
For several decades, the Chinese managed to transport millions and millions of people efficiently around their cities – primarily by bicycle. There are reportedly 450 million bicycles in China, and the bicycle has served as a great tool historically.
Now, enter the world of the automobile. The Chinese have been making room for the automobile as their economy expands and wealth increases. But the automobile simply can’t support the same capacity that the bicycle can – and capacity is everything in a country of 1.3+ billion people with more than 160 cities with one or more million people.
The predicament that the Chinese are facing became evident to people around the world when the 100KM, 9-day traffic jam on the Beijing-Tibet “Expressway” was reported today by the CBC, CNN, and a Chinese English news agency, among others.
The traffic jam has stranded mostly truck drivers for reportedly 9 days, and many are playing cards to pass the time.
For a moment, forget about all the negative things that result from automobiles. Let’s assume that car’s don’t pollute, emit carbon, take very little resources to produce, and don’t consume fossil fuels or require electricity to operate (almost sounds like a bicycle, eh?).
Even if this were the case, there simply isn’t enough room or cars. They are too bulky – taking up too much space, and there isn’t enough land to pave over to accommodate everyone in the world driving an automobile.
This is a reality that the Chinese will face as car ownership increases. In 2007 I sat in a Beijing traffic jam, and I was fascinated by the extremely wide highways at full capacity – and it can only get worse.
This is where the bicycle comes in. It is a proven tool that the Chinese have relied upon for many decades.
Here’s a live version of one of my favourite songs of all time – Nine Million Bicycles by Katie Melua:
Here’s a Chinese traffic jam in Chengdu Sichuan:
Photo courtesy of Mike Lowell
“Progress” is not taking ideas from cities like Los Angeles to solve transportation issues. Progress is taking something that has been trusty and proven for the last 100 years – the bicycle – and building upon its successes.
Thankfully, the Chinese government hasn’t turned its back on the bicycle (not yet at least). When I visited earlier this year, I saw great, wide, segregated bicycle infrastructure being built in Chinese suburbs.
Hopefully the 9-day, 100KM-long traffic jam will make people realize they had it better off before the automobile came along.
The last thing China needs is to expand its road capacity only to have a 200KM, 18-day traffic jam 2 years later.
James D. Schwartz is the editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at email@example.com.
Wow – looking at that traffic jam in Sichuan, you have to wonder what they were *thinking*. If you have two-wheeled traffic jams, what’s going to happen when you put those same people into vehicles *much* larger? What a crazy idea.
Todd, it does make logical sense looking in from the outside. However, the people who strive for the privilege of automobile ownership are the ones that want to break away from the bicycle/scooter traffic jams and be more comfortable and “safe” inside an automobile.
The first time I visited China was in 2007. The second time in 2010. In those 3 short years, there was a considerable increase in the number of cars in Han’s home city. And even today, traffic flows really well in that city of ~1 million people. So it’s easy to understand why people with some money would choose the automobile.
However, this will change. We will start to see traffic jams like this 11-day traffic jam, and then people will start to realize that driving is no longer a convenience, and it’s actually restricting their mobility. That’s why I love traffic jams 🙂
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