I’m back in the Twin Cities now, and enjoying one of the activities that I miss the most while I’m in China: driving. Nothing quite gives the feeling of freedom and independence than crusing around in one’s own dark green Honda! I especially love the roads here. Where are all the cars? And look, there are stop signs. And drivers actually stop for lights. And no one backs up on the freeways. Or drives on the sidewalk. Like I said, it’s all so very tidy.
Unlike Beijing, my adopted hometown. On Tuesday, the Asia Times Online had an interesting article about the traffic problem in Beijing, and how the government might deal with it during the Olympics. There are some alarming statistics:
With a sharp increase in motor vehicles and lagging behind in infrastructure construction, traffic jams have become a daily headache of Beijing residents. In 1949, when the communists took power, there were only several thousand motor vehicles in the capital. Forty-eight years later, in 1997, Beijing announced it had a million automobiles on the road. At that time, officials and experts predicted that the number could grow to 2 million by 2010. But their prediction proved too conservative. The number of registered motor vehicles in Beijing hit 2 million in August 2003, when many excitedly hailed "the coming of the automobile age". According to the Beijing government’s statistics, by the end of 2005 there were 2.15 million registered civilian motor vehicles in the city. Taking into account military vehicles, which do not need to be registered, the total could be more than 2.3 million. And given the growth rate, the number of vehicles in Beijing could reach 3.5 million by 2008. Compared with other major metropolises, such as Tokyo and New York, the number of cars in Beijing may still be small. However, road construction and traffic management in the capital city lag far behind because of the faster-than-expected growth of car use.
It’s like I often tell taxi drivers in Beijing: "Beijing has become the world’s largest parking lot!"