August 03, 2009

Traffic Jam

Most newcomers to Beijing have been warned in advance about the heavy traffic that they will experience in the city. This does little to prepare them for the gridlock that awaits them once they arrive. Weaving through traffic, whether in a vehicle or by foot is quite an endeavour. In rush hour, the approximately four kilometer long trip from my home in Dawanglu to my office in Guomao takes one hour by bus. There are four major intersections in between, and it takes 10-15 minutes to cross each one. If I am late leaving my apartment in the morning I walk one, two, or three stops down. The number of stops depends on how late I am. I board the bus when I have caught up to where I would have been in if I had been riding the bus all along.

The cars, buses, and trucks spill on to the bike lanes once they have clogged up the roads. Smaller motorized vehicles, bicycles, and people fit through the empty spaces to be found amongst the larger vehicles, often barely squeezing past. Traffic comes from all directions. Although vehicular traffic is chaotic and slow, this is not to say that those walking are actually moving swiftly or smoothly. In fact pedestrians are waddling at a very relaxed pace, so as not to break a sweat, trip over uneven pavement, or collide with a defecating child. Sudden stops are not uncommon either, as a certain item being sold by a street side vendor may have caught their attention, they may have forgotten where they were going, or had the urge to clear their throats by collecting large amount of phlegm and indiscriminately spitting this out on to the street or on innocent bystanders. Although I have become adept at navigating the streets and sidewalks of Beijing, I have yet to perfect the latter practice.

“There are no traffic jams when you go the extra mile.”