Directing cars and pedestrians through intersections in the
Xidan Shopping District in downtown Beijing is an onerous job for
traffic assistant Dong Sheng.
Whenever Dong Sheng stops the bumper-to-bumper stream of cars,
passers-by hurry to cross. Sandwiched in between the cars, they
cannot avoid inhaling exhaust fumes.
"On the weekend it gets even more crowded in shopping areas like
this. Cars and pedestrians both want to be first, and no one yields
an inch," said Dong Sheng who took the job last year.
More than 3,000 traffic assistants, many of whom are locals who
have been laid off from their jobs, have been signed up by the
Beijing traffic administration to remedy the shortage of traffic
police and offset the inflexibility of traffic lights.
With the local economy being propelled by the "Olympic effect",
observers warn that poor traffic conditions may be the biggest
obstacle to a successful Games.
Dong Sheng is not the only one upset by the thorny traffic
situation. Calling traffic management a "focal problem" of urban
administration, Beijing Mayor Wang Qishan told Hong Kong media on
Wednesday that his top priority was to "borrow experiences" in mass
transmit management so as to alleviate traffic congestion in time
for the 2008 Olympics.
A report from the Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences says
traffic jams cost the southern city up to 12 billion yuan (US$1.5
billion) a year, about seven percent of its gross domestic
According to a survey, Beijing, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Shanghai,
Yantai, Ningbo, Xi'an, Dalian, Foshan and Chongqing are the 10
Chinese cities with the worst traffic conditions.
Traffic congestion is an issue that increasingly industrialized
China must confront. The situation may worsen as urbanization
progresses, notes Lu Ming, professor of economics at Fudan
University in Shanghai.
With China's sizzling economy maintaining double-digit growth,
farmers are laying down their hoes and migrating to cities for
better pay and opportunities. This further exacerbates the strain
on public utilities and resources.
Beijing has more than three million migrant rural laborers among
its 15 million permanent residents. The capital city is estimated
to have 2.82 million cars, with more than 1,000 new ones hitting
the streets every day.
Tan Xiaoxiong, an American teacher with New Oriental School,
wrote in an article: "China does have traffic regulations, but you
wouldn't know it when you're in the street... Some foreigners might
get frightened when they see taxis and buses jockey for
According to some analysts, ignorance of traffic rules and a
cavalier attitude to other people's rights are hallmarks of
agricultural society where people are happy-go-lucky but
To remedy the situation, the Chinese government has channeled
2.23 trillion yuan (US$279.43 billion) into the construction and
upgrading of transportation facilities over the past five years.
Some 645 billion yuan was spent last year alone.
By 2010, Beijing will have upgraded two subway lines and built
three new lines including a special subway leading to the Olympic
village. A light-rail track will be laid to the airport while
intervals between subway train services will be shortened to 150
Apart from improving transportation infrastructure, the Chinese
authorities are also trying to make breakthroughs in traffic
Since traffic often grinds to a halt when drivers involved in
minor accidents start to wrangle over compensation, the Tianjin
Municipality has urged people to immediately leave the accident
scene if there is no severe damage.
Protracted bickering only results in traffic congestion and
delays other people, the authority noted, threatening to impose
To eliminate the disgraceful scenes that occur after car
accidents, analysts said China must establish a sounder car
insurance system and traffic policemen must respond faster and more
During the China-Africa summit earlier this month, a package of
successful traffic control measures were taken by the Beijing
Government, leading to smoother and better traffic.
"It was a joy to drive in the streets during the summit. It
wasn't like Beijing at all," said taxi driver Zhao Lai.
The Beijing authorities prevented 800,000 vehicles from taking
to the streets during the three-day event.
Li Xiangping, a researcher with Italy-based Fiat Research
Center, said that mass traffic management is not rocket
"To get significant improvements, you have to change beliefs
held by the government and ideas in the mind of the public.
Awareness of other people's needs is crucial," he said.
(Xinhua News Agency November 17, 2006)