Beijing traffic seizes up under rising pressure

By Wang Huazhong (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-09-20 07:45
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Roads struggle to absorb extra demand in run-up to holidays

Beijing traffic seizes up under rising pressure

Cars run slowly up the Jianguomen bridge during the afternoon rush hour in Beijing, Sept 19, 2010. [Photo/Xinhuanet]

BEIJING - The capital was choked by 88 traffic jams on Sunday morning, approaching the congestion created earlier this year by heavy snowfall, as Beijing struggles to cope with the large number of vehicles on the road in the run-up to two national holidays, the city's traffic management bureau reported.

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A record 140 traffic jams paralyzed the city's road system on Friday evening, as the number of vehicles on the streets exceeded 4.5 million, according to the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau.

The authority had warned there would be heavy pressure on the roads on Sunday after it was made a work day to accommodate this week's Mid-Autumn Festival, as well as because no traffic restrictions apply on that day.

To minimize bottlenecks, Beijing now limits the number of cars that may be on the road during the week, according to the last number of vehicle license plates.

Traffic was moving slower than 20 km per hour on 88 trunk roads and expressways in Beijing at 9 am on Sunday, Beijing News reported. The morning rush extended an extra hour, according to the report.

Beijing Traffic Radio quoted city traffic police as having said that at 6pm the situation was better than on Friday evening, though serious snarl-ups remained on major ring roads and intersections.

Last Wednesday, the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau warned that the city's roads were exhibiting pre-festival symptoms, as "residents made more trips during off-peak hours and at night".

The bureau said: "Shopping, visiting friends and relatives, and party going will contribute to major traffic flows on the city's ring roads before the national holidays."

The three-day holiday for the Mid-Autumn Festival, when families traditionally gather and exchange gifts, starts on Wednesday and the seven-day holiday for National Day begins on Oct 1.

The traffic bureau said Beijing will be further tested on Sept 25, 26 and Oct 9, which will once again be considered work days without traffic restrictions.

Before last Friday, the previous record for simultaneous traffic congestions was 90, recorded early this year amid heavy snow, Beijing News reported.

Taxi driver Liu Tong, 49, who has driven in Beijing for 20 years, said these days the capital is like "a free car park", adding: "Snarls no longer get on my nerves after I became accustomed to them."

With Sunday considered a work day, the subway system responded to the challenge by keeping train capacities as high as on regular work days, a move it plans to repeat on the days before and after the two holiday periods.

As of Sept 12, there were 6.1 million drivers and 4.5 million registered motor vehicles on the streets of the capital, according to figures from the city's traffic bureau.

Jia Yuanhua, professor of traffic system engineering at Beijing Jiaotong University, said a huge gap exists between the demand and supply of traffic infrastructure in Beijing.

He said some of the traffic management measures that have been adopted by Beijing's traffic administrators, such as limiting the number of cars on the road, only "ease the pain without eradicating the problem".

The government should regard the traffic issue as of the same importance as its policies on health and employment, he added.

Cao Yin contributed to this story.

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