Why Is Traffic So Miserable In Beijing? A Five-Minute Tutorial

Update, 7/14, 10:07 am: someone has put the video up on YouTube, embedded after the jump.

Did you know there are 14,694 people per square kilometer in Beijing, and five million people own cars as of January? Furthermore, did you know that the area inside Second Ring Road, just 62.5 square kilometers, makes up 6 percent of Beijing’s total area yet accounts for 30 percent of all traffic? Or that within Second Ring Road, government compounds take up an incredible 58 percent of space, with the implication that the government’s transportation needs — think private cars, probably Audis — does more to cripple the traffic grid than anything else?

These are the facts you learn in this five-minute video, “Urban Miss,” produced by the animation department of the Communication University of China and graduates of the technical school Digital Media Arts. I feel like the video only scratches the surface, and that’s not a knock on the filmmakers. I’d just love to learn more. Why, for example, do multi-lane roads decrease efficiency? It makes sense, but I’d love to have some statistics, and a sense that perhaps people in charge understand this city’s needs (narrower lanes, but more of them, and one-way streets). Would more traffic regulations ever work in China, a place where drivers are notoriously blase about traffic rules? I think there are enough questions here to warrant an hour-long piece.

It heartens me to see that there are people thinking critically about this city’s traffic woes. The above video includes English and Chinese subtitles.

    4 Responses to “Why Is Traffic So Miserable In Beijing? A Five-Minute Tutorial”

    1. Ruud van Winden

      Here you go, some more stats on the 5 million cars Beijing proudly owns:

      The 62,5 km/2 (total land area within the second ring road) is on the dot the exact space needed if you park all 5 million cars Beijing has door-to-door, bumper-to-bumper on a standard 5.00 x 2.50 meter parking space.

      Mind you, this would be without any aisles to drive your car out of this amazingly big parking lot.

      The same 5 million cars bumper-to-bumper (based on average length 4 meters) would span half way around the world: 20,000 km! A nice traffic jam, and it sure beats the 100 km traffic jam of August 2010 near Beijing by a long shot.

      Stacked on top of each other these 5 million cars (based on an average 1.60 height) would reach a staggering 8,000 kilometers, that is roughly the distance between Beijing and Paris…

      With these numbers in mind it is a miracle traffic in Beijing is moving at all…

    2. Ashley Tumson

      A friend of mine studies highway traffic patterns and told me something really interesting.

      It doesn’t matter how wide a motorway is – it can have 3 lanes, 4 lanes, 5 lanes, whatever, it will never increase efficiency because one way or another the 3-4-5 lanes will be reduced to 1-2 lanes, thereby creating a bottleneck effect. It doesn’t matter how long the motorway is, the bottleneck effect will be felt all throughout the motorway, so answering your question about increased efficiency, they don’t.


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