Picture a ladder lying on the ground. If you were flying over our neighborhood, that’s what it would look like. The ladder represents the roads. Between each rung is a different neighborhood: River Garden, Capitol Paradise, the oddly-named Gahood, and so on. At the base of the ladder is a cluster of shops, like Jenny Lou’s and Starbucks. At the top is the International School of Beijing. One long side of the ladder is a narrow road, nicknamed “dead ayi road” because the ayis have to bicycle home along it, competing with cars for space. Alongside that road is a river and a big field. The other side of the ladder is a four lane highway that leads to the airport expressway. There are small shops and restaurants along the road. There has been quite a bit of construction along it since we arrived. A new hotel is about to open, along with a mall. McDonalds just opened at the bottom corner of the ladder.
Across the highway from McDonald’s, they’ve been building a huge convention center. We’ve watched it going up and thought to ourselves – how is this road possibly going to accommodate all of that convention center traffic?
Well, the convention center officially opened today, and I am already hating it. For starters, they decided to celebrate by setting off fireworks late last night and early this morning – just when we’d recovered from the New Year’s festivities. But the real problem is just what we worried about: the traffic. Suddenly, there are cars and buses and taxis packed on our little roads. The line at McDonalds is out the door. We can no longer even turn left onto our street, assuming we can bust through the crazy traffic. Our little slice of suburban Beijing has gone urban overnight, except that we’re still just as far as ever from the true urban center. It’s the worst of both worlds.
I know they are widening the main road. Just last week, a bunch of bulldozers arrived and knocked down the hutongs along the road. I don’t know where they put the people who lived and worked there the week before; I wonder if they got any notice before the bulldozers arrived. But traffic here is already crazy. There are no rules, except, perhaps, every man for himself. There are all sorts of contraptions barreling along the road, fighting for space, and it is routine to see people driving down the wrong side of the road, just out of a sense of entitlement, I suppose. And instead of traffic lights, long stretches of road are broken up by speed bumps, which actually increase the hazards: some people veer around them, others brake at the last minute, some chug over them cautiously and others barrel over them.
If they don’t get that road widened and throw some lights up, it’s going to be disastrous.