Chinese Premier Wen was in Athens and Brussels in October 2010, kindly pledging China’s aid and investment to save the Greek and other eurozone economies.
While he was in negotiations to get the stricken Greek economy back on the rails and help the rest of Europe move forward, Wen may have occasionally glanced out of the meeting room windows and thought admiringly “They do at least seem to have the traffic more or less under control.”
Because China, for all its mighty financial resources and state power, has certainly not got its traffic under control!
I once sat in a taxi in a Bangkok traffic jam, for hours, and thought it was pretty phenomenal. There were cars and trucks as far as the eye could see – a solid jam-packed metal mass of vehicles periodically blaring horns and going nowhere. At one point we moved – slightly – further away from the airport and – slightly – nearer to the city centre. The taxi driver was so excited he managed to bump (slowly) into the van in front which was carrying eggs. They broke. There was plenty of time for the ensuing row as the traffic was at a standstill for several more hours. Though I formed the view that Bangkok traffic jams were probably second to none in their intensity and duration it’s become clear that, compared to Chinese traffic jams, they’re child’s play.
In September 2010, a record 140 vast traffic jams were documented on a single Friday evening in the Chinese capital, Beijing. Over 4.5 million cars and trucks were choking Beijing’s gridlocked streets.
In August 2010, one Beijing traffic jam was recorded as longer than 60 miles. The hapless drivers, mainly truck drivers, had their vehicles stuck on a highway between Beijing and Inner Mongolia for over a week.
Record-breaking traffic jams have become a part of daily life in Chinese cities.
China has long been known for big numbers. China’s population is over 1.3 billion. It’s the largest exporter in the world. It has the largest standing army. It’s the world’s biggest consumer of energy and, perhaps surprisingly, the Chinese are the largest consumers of luxury goods.
China is also the biggest automobile market in the world with total sales worth over 13.6 million dollars. And that’s the problem. Gone are the days when millions of Chinese people cycled unpollutingly around their cities, with an occasional tinkle of their bicycle bell. Sales of cars in China have outstripped the development of systems and roads adequate to handle the traffic.
As you would expect, however, the Chinese are on the case. The Chinese government has its engineers hard at work building a national road system able to cope with the ever-increasing volume of cars. It’s bound to be wildly expensive given the scale of the project and the number of car owners. But since the Chinese Premier is ready to splash out on rescuing Europe and the euro, he doubtless feels there’s enough money in the coffers to sort out Chinese traffic jams…