If you think your commute is bad...

AP reports that “China’s massive traffic jam could last for weeks”!

A massive traffic jam in north China that stretches for dozens of miles and hit its 10-day mark on Tuesday stems from road construction in Beijing that won’t be finished until the middle of next month, an official said….

Some drivers have been stuck in the jam for five days, China Central Television reported Tuesday. But Zhang said he wasn’t sure when the situation along the Beijing-Zhangjiakou highway would return to normal.

At Stanford in the 1990s, I wrote a paper describing how oil, rubber, tire, and car companies conspired in the 1930s and 1940s to destroy American cities' trolley cars and replace them with automobiles. Only decades later — after our car-centric culture produced daily gridlock and unrelenting asphalt jungles — would Americans realize how much they missed reliable, cheap, congestion-proof trolley cars.

My paper argued that Americans didn’t realize what a mistake they were making in ripping up their dedicated trolley car tracks and replacing them with wheeled buses that would have to compete with cars on increasingly congested streets. But, I argued, China could see America’s mistake and avoid our fate by emphasizing mass transit and discouraging car usage (through high car taxes, etc.). I argued that the sooner Chinese cities set aside rights-of-way for trolleys and subways, the cheaper and easier mass transportation construction would be.

Instead, the lure of automobiles proved too seductive for China. Although China places more emphasis on public transportation than America does, China’s massive population and crowded cities mean Chinese roads are becoming congested with a far smaller percentage of people driving cars.

Excessive reliance on cars and trucks leads to massive traffic jams that waste people’s time and destroy perishable goods:

Bumper-to-bumper gridlock spanning for 60 miles (100 kilometers) with vehicles moving little more than a half-mile (one kilometer) a day at one point has improved since this weekend, said Zhang Minghai, director of Zhangjiakou city’s Traffic Management Bureau general office…

The traffic jam started Aug. 14 on a stretch of the highway that is frequently congested, especially after large coalfields were discovered in Inner Mongolia, Zhang said. Traffic volume has increased 40 percent every year.

Drivers stranded in the gridlock in the Inner Mongolia region and Hebei province, headed toward Beijing, passed the time sleeping, walking around, or playing cards and chess. Local villagers were doing brisk business selling instant noodles, boxed lunches and snacks, weaving between the parked trucks on bicycles.

Posted by James on Tuesday, August 24, 2010