Thursday, December 23, 2010

China's love of automobiles

The NY Times has a story about the rapidly growing car culture in China. For all of the excitement about China's transit, rail and other infrastructure investment, Chinese cities are quickly filling up with middle-class drivers. This has many predicable and difficult consequences. One consequence of the congestion is:
city officials said rush-hour traffic speed had dropped nearly 4 percent in one year, to an average of 15 miles per hour, and was headed for 9 miles an hour by 2015.

That is, roughly, bicycle speed.

The Chinese government is sufficiently concerned about the growing auto-centricity, and will release a report with recommendations for reducing the growth in auto ownership and use:
According to a senior journalist at one official media outlet, that episode prompted President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to weigh in, asking Beijing city and Communist Party leaders what was to be done. The journalist, who asked not to be named for fear of repercussions, said Beijing leaders had suggested ways to halt population growth in Beijing and cap the number of new automobiles.

One of the more amusing yet tragic (see above video) aspects of China's new found love of autos is that hardly anyone knows what they are doing. Not planners, drivers or others:
Part of the problem is poor planning. Curiously, a city of more than six million drivers has virtually no stop signs, turning intersections into playing fields for games of vehicular chicken. Freeway entrance ramps appear just before exit ramps, guaranteeing multilane disarray as cars seeking to get off try to punch through lines of cars seeking to get on.

Beijing drivers do not help. The city’s driving style is best likened to a post-holiday sale in which dozens of shoppers mill about a single bin, elbowing for advantage — in this case, entry to a single lane of traffic that is probably blocked by a taxi anyway.

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