People like to complain about traffic, and there are a lot of cities in the United States that have bad reputations for traffic jams, but none of them hold a candle to Beijing. In Beijing’s most recent traffic jam debacle, thousands were trapped on a 50-lane highway as they attempted to return home from their Golden Week vacations.
National holidays tend to result in massive population movements, and China’s Golden Week represents one of the largest in the world. According to the Daily Mail, China’s National Tourism Board estimated that Golden Week would see some 750 million people travelling inside China, which represents about half of the country’s entire population.
While some Golden Week vacationers no doubt chose methods other than cars to visit family during the week-long holiday, 750 million is a huge number, and enough of those people took to the country’s economy sized highways to cause problems when it came time to return home.
According to ABC News, the trouble started at around 2 p.m. local time on the last day of Golden Week, as thousands of motorists used the G4 Beijing-Hong Kong-Macau Expressway to head home from their vacations. The expressway is 50 lanes wide. Take a moment to digest that. Most of us have experience with five or six-lane highways, but we’re talking about 50 lanes here. Imagine a good sized parking lot, except it extends as far as the eye can see into the distance, which isn’t actually that far due to smog.
When the influx of vacation traffic hit a checkpoint on the G4 Beijing-Hong Kong-Macau Expressway, it suddenly resembled a parking lot in utility as well as size. The checkpoint spans the entire 50 lane expressway and chokes it down to 20 lanes, which created a snarl in the holiday traffic that left motorists stranded in a sea of cars and smog. From 50 lanes to 20 lanes just like that, and somehow nobody ever saw how that might be a problem.
Drone footage of the Beijing traffic jam is nightmarish, showing a mass of vehicles 50 wide and barely moving, which disappears into the smog.
According to the Guardian, Chinese drivers are more than passing familiar with endless gridlock. In August 2010, one famous traffic jam stranded drivers for a terrifying amount of time. That traffic jam lasted for something like two weeks, and some individual drivers were stranded on the highway for five days or more.
Some drivers were lucky, or smart, enough to have food and water in their cars, while others were forced to pay a huge premium to enterprising locals who ventured onto the gridlocked highway to sell their goods. The Guardian reported that some drivers were forced to pay 10 yuan for a bottle of water that would have cost 1 yuan under normal circumstances.
The traffic jam on the G4 Beijing-Hong Kong-Macau Expressway doesn’t look as bad as that, but being stuck in a 50 lane traffic jam is still the stuff that nightmares are made of. And the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. According to the Guardian, China took the title of the largest car market in the world away from the United States in 2010, and the country has been hard at work building its road infrastructure.
With that many cars on the road and strange choices like the 50-lane to 20-lane constriction seen on the G4 Beijing-Hong Kong-Macau Expressway, more traffic jams like this and the one from 2010 seem inevitable.
What would you do if you got stuck in a traffic jam like the one in Beijing that capped off Golden Week? Maybe it would be better to just avoid 50-lane expressways in the first place.
[Screengrabs via YouTube, Second in-body image via Giphy]