Keep that traffic rolling

By Tan Zongyang (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-04-08 08:15
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Beijing - There are no gridlocked roads in Li Xu's world. Traffic flows smoothly and specially designed intersections keep everyone on the move.

Such fluidity is all due to the 22-year-old university student's remedy for the road -- clover-leaf-shaped interchanges -- a proposal which this week set in motion the wheels of debate from drivers, traffic experts and authorities.

Keep that traffic rolling
Li Xu, a 22-year-old university student, has designed a clover-leaf-shaped interchange to hopefully solve traffic jams in cities. [Provided to China Daily]

"I know many people laughed at me because they thought the plan was unrealistic," said Li, who studies traffic engineering at Harbin Institute of Technology at Weihai, Shandong province.

"But I always encourage myself with the story of the Wright brothers, who were laughed at by others before putting the first ever plane into the sky."

Keep that traffic rolling

Li's intersection design proposes several swerve lanes, which help cars move ahead or turn in any direction without running into each other.

It also shortens the distance needed to make a U-turn and the traffic lights usually seen at intersections are removed, saving waiting time.

"The bridge has just one layer for the overpass and the design is quite handy for drivers to navigate their way," Li said, adding that he had reduced the design size many times to maintain its suitability for smaller junctions yet save construction cost.

Many online comments have appealed to the government to use the design to help ease severe traffic congestion in cities.

However, many experts have labeled the design as impractical.

Xiao Rucheng, professor at Shanghai-based Tongji University, told China Daily the size of the bridge would be much larger than expected if put into construction. If so, it would lose the value of fitting into small junctions.

In addition, pedestrian and bicycle lanes were absent, which would be another difficulty to design.

Ma Lin, deputy director of the Urban Transport Center, Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, said in an early report that Beijing's traffic volume is too huge to adopt the plan, or it could even worsen the situation.

Li said the idea incubated for two years.

"My father lost a business opportunity in Beijing after he was caught in traffic in 2007," he said. "It pushed me to think of how to apply my skills to solve real traffic problems rather than get high scores in school exams."

Li started to study intersection design and collected pictures of many overhead bridges, examining their shapes and designs.

He also measured the slope of overpasses in Weihai, observing how they affect the speed of cars - practical information he could apply to Beijing, which he feels is the most suitable place to practice his design as its roads are laid out in a grid.

Li's ambitious project also inspired his father, a retired civil servant in his hometown in Henan province.

His father started to read books on traffic engineering and learned how to use computer-aided design software by following online video instructions, and offered his son assistance as well as tons of encouraging words.

Last October, Li decided to apply for a patent from the State Intellectual Property Office, and his application passed the preliminary examination and is now waiting to be ratified by the patent authority.

Taking the advice of critics, Li is now busy revising his original work as well as verifying its feasibility.

He has even decided to incorporate the design into his graduation thesis, which aims to use simulation software to test how the bridge performs in virtual reality.

"I hope the result will prove that the design is reliable and could benefit more people," he said.