Steve's China Blog

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Traffic problems

Traffic here in Chengdu seems to get worse and worse every day. This morning's commute was the worst I had ever been in... anywhere in the world at any time. The traffic in Chengdu is not fast, but it is very heavy at times. There are a lot of factors that make traffic here bad...

1) Cars are still new to China and most drivers do not have much experience driving. On my first trip to China in 2001 everyone was on bicycles and there were only a few cars. Now it is the opposite. Of course, if you ask people if they can drive they will tell you they have been driving for a long time and are very experienced.

2) There are probably about 1,000 new drivers every day in Chengdu. That's just a guess, but I heard that Beijing sells about 2,000 to 3,000 brand new cars every single day, so 1,000 new drivers for Chengdu with a population of about 11 million people is not a bad guess.

3) A lot of these new drivers have no training, and many pay bribes to get their license. Corruption is bad everywhere here, and the Chinese version of the DMV is no exception. When I first looked into getting a driver's license here they only had the written test in Chinese, but I could hire an translator. There are two types of translators I could hire... one that would translate the questions for me, and one that would translate the questions for me and give me the answers. The second one is a little more expensive. Just about every person I have talked to that has gone through a driving class here has been encouraged to bribe their teachers with small gifts if they wish to pass.

4) Most Chinese drivers are rude and selfish. Selfish driving is the rule of the road here. Never let anyone else have the right away. Never let anyone pass you. If you have to stop somewhere be sure to stop where it will provide the most inconvenience to others around you. Do not pull off the road if you need to use your cell phone... Get into the left lane and slow down to 5 MPH while you chat on the phone. Heck, if you can drive down the divide between 2 lanes at 5 MPH then that is even better. This stuff about saving face is a load of BS too. I've heard people say they did not want to let someone pass them because they might lose face, but their actions to avoid this loss of face are shameful most of the times. For example, I've seen someone in a car almost run over some little old lady as she tries to walk across the street because they didn't want to let her go by first. Crazy.

5) Most Chinese people do not know how to wait in a queue. Traffic is basically a long queue of people who happen to be in (or on) vehicles. Although you will often hear that China has a civilization that has lasted for 4,000 years (or 5,000 years or 6,000 years, etc... depending on who you talk to) waiting in queues seems to be a civilized behavior they missed. Or else they knew about it, but forgot about it while Mao was in power.

6) Political elites are the worst offenders of traffic laws, and many other drivers emulate their bad driving behavior. If you are driving down the road and see a car with a red colored character on their license plates then you know they are high up in the government and are better than you. They are above the law. They also have a special sounding horn, and you better get out of the way if they honk it at you. Failure to do so could be reason enough for a trip to a labor camp for a few years. If one of these idiots hits you just go ahead and plead guilty. It's never their fault.

7) Chinese police do not enforce traffic laws. They do pull people over who have not paid their car tax, but that's about it. Want to drive down the sidewalk? Go for it!

There are probably dozens of other reasons too, but I won't go over all of them here. You get the idea.

Here's a picture I took a few weeks ago at an intersection near where I live that I travel through every day on the way to work....

It's not a very good picture, since I did not want to get out of the car to take it. We weren't moving, but that doesn't mean someone would not run me over if I stepped out of the car, especially the people on bikes, scooters and motorcycles that weave in and out of this mess.

I will have to try to explain how traffic flows through this intersection... It is a 3-way intersection that comes off of an old bridge which goes from west to east. The bridge can support about 3 lanes of traffic (there are no lane markings on the bridge) and the other two roads which run north and south can support 3 to 4 lanes of traffic. There are lane markings on the north and south roads for one lane of auto traffic on each side as well as a lane for bicycles. Cars, trucks and buses use the bicycle lane whenever they want and bicycles, scooters, motorcycles, pull carts, etc... sometimes use the auto lanes if they can survive doing so. Lane markings are only guidelines... not rules.

Up until yesterday there was no traffic lights at this intersection, and going through the intersection is a bit of luck and a bit of chaos since the concept of right-of-way is not really understood here. Sometimes someone has to stop to let traffic in one of the other roads of the intersection pass because the others have nudged in, and this is when the problems start.

If someone in front of you stops to let other traffic go by you do not just stop and wait your turn (you do not know how to wait your turn in a queue, remember?)... you go around them using the bicycle path or even the lane for oncoming traffic. If there is a lot of traffic you can have a lot of lanes of traffic, since people will continue to go to the sides to go around the stopped traffic. Since you are not an experienced driver you did not look down the road to see that there are 3 lanes of traffic trying to squeeze into the one lane of oncoming traffic that you have now taken, and being a rude selfish driver you do not care. So now you will sit and wait for someone else to move.

Although there are now traffic lights at this intersection it did not seem to help this morning. After all, traffic lights are like lane markings... only guidelines, not the rule.

What is curious though is this... I've seen cars hit pedestrians, other cars, bicycles, etc... but I've never seen them hit a dog. Dogs seem to have some magical property that allows them to cross the street with no fear and no danger. It's weird.


  • Traffic schmaffic it just ain't gonna' be Renn Faire without you.

    You are going to miss the new video Kilts gone Wild.

    Cheers Bud,


    By Anonymous Greg, at 3:21 AM  

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