Monday Reads: The 9-Day-Traffic-Jam Edition

A notable episode of congestion reminds us of the cost of "convenience"

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Somewhere between reports of the re-education of a certain beloved “puny and decadent” ABP (American-Born Panda) nicknamed Butterstick and the Chinese economy swapping global economic rankings with its neighbor across the East China Sea, one particular tale from China is drawing escalating amounts of fascination and Facebook Shares.

We’re talking, of course, of the 60 mile-long, 9-day-weary-and-counting traffic jam on a major thoroughfare leading to Beijing. This one may be creeping into the record books, one hard-fought inch at a time.

It was not so long ago that seas of bicycles ruled China’s city streets like so:


Today, you’re more likely to be greeted by:

Photo: 2_dogs

(Or perhaps, China’s distinctly unique flavor of organized chaos. Pedestrian beware.)

Photo: APTOPIX China Daily Life

On a recent visit to Beijing, I came across one fine specimen of a jam, a knot of such permanence that people had removed themselves from their vehicles to not just stretch their legs but engage in leisurely, full-course picnics. As one Beijing resident remarked, “You know you’re in trouble when you stick your head out of the car window and see food carts working their way down the aisle.”

The current epic jam is taking place on G110 (aka, the Beijing-Tibet Expressway). Xinhua, official mouthpiece of the P.R.C., tells us that the line of automobiles (mostly lorries) stretches from the capital to Inner Mongolia. When can the boxed-in boxcars expect a respite? Government authorities have given the rather rosy estimate of…one month. And to make matters worse, the hapless drivers are being made to suffer additional—and one might say even more painful— indignities: to their stomachs. In true entrepreneurial spirit, local residents are making the best of their unexpected guests:

…a truck driver surnamed Huang, told the Global Times that he suffered "double blows." [Blow #1 being the traffic. Blow #2 being:] "Instant noodles are sold at four times the original price while I wait in the congestion," he said. "Not only the congestion annoys me, but also those vendors," he joked, calling for help with their lives on the road.

What’s causing the holdup? According to news reports:

tiny road relative to high traffic volume
+ road construction begun five days ago
+ road damage from heavy trucks
+ unending number of accidents
+ breakdowns galore
= one very long line of dirty, polluting vehicles

On April 1 of this year (no, this was not an April Fools joke), the ink dried on a tailpipe fuel economy milestone 13 months in the making. It came on the heels of numerous recent steps (brought to you by your friendly neighborhood Earthjustice) to curtail the appalling pollution produced by planes, trains and automobiles. China’s growing car ownership merely adds to the staggering amount of carbon pollution exhaled by our motorized carriages each year, destroying lungs and contributing to that tiny problem called climate change.

We can only imagine that rare bicyclist gleefully and glamorously passing the trapped gasoline dinosaurs on G110, arriving in Beijing for a moderately priced dinner of delectably steaming soup noodles. Perhaps there is something to that so-called ‘UN master treaty conspiracy’

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Shirley undertakes sous chef duties on Earthjustice’s website, serving up interactive online features for our advocacy campaign and litigation work.