Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Chinese Traffic

I read with interest that the Chinese plan to reduce pollution for the Olympics starting 8/8/08 (the number 8 is a lucky number for the Chinese people) has gone into effect and still there is serious pollution in the city. Only half the cars are allowed on the road each day and many polluting factories around Beijing have be shut down. My own experience in Beijing is that there are clear skies about 20-30% of the time and high and low pressure weather conditions are the most overriding influence.

All large Chinese cities are heavy polluted due to a combination of things. Many cities are along rivers with mountains around them which causes a thermal blanket trapping pollution below until weather changes allowing the pollution to disperse. Sand storms from the west can cause near black out conditions in some places, including Beijing. And then there is gasoline pollution.

I have traveled extensively in China and never had I seen one SUV. I lot of vans owned by the government (including travel organizations), yes, but no privately owned SUV's. The rich in China drive new, black, BMW's or Audis. There are no gas guzzling old cars and most cars, including taxis are small cars on the scale of what is used in Europe.

Most traffic outside the big cities consists of bicycles, pedestrians, 2 cylinder tiny tractors, and overloaded slow moving trucks painted blue. Then there are occasional livestock who have no sense of danger and can move unpredictably, requiring drivers to creep past.

In cities with 4 or 6 lane traffic, new drivers over 30 are super cautious and help cause traffic congestion by sometimes driving in the left or middle lanes. Young drivers with really good reflexes (especially taxi drivers) dart in an out of traffic, drive on the shoulder, and create 3 lanes of traffic when the road only has two. By our standards, they would be called insane drivers. When they want to turn left (Chinese cars are left hand driver just like in the U.S. except Hong Kong), they move their car into oncoming traffic forcing the opposite moving traffic to try to move around them or to stop. Drivers pull into traffic or even when there is no traffic, when they see a space without regard as to whether traffic behind them have to brake hard or swerve around them.

Almost all cars and trucks are standard shift. The slow moving, exceptionally overloaded blue trucks belch much black smoke which indicates inefficient burning of the gasoline.

Taxis are cheap because China subsidizes gasoline, so if your have strong nerves this is a good value.

So, having expelled all this various information, I predict there will be some days during the Olympics where there will be serious pollution. I hope this embarrassment will further spark the government to take care of the world's citizens.

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