Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Traffic, Beijing-style

I mentioned a few weeks back that they were preparing to open a massive convention center directly across the street from our little residential enclave, and that we were all preparing for disaster. Well, that disaster has arrived, in the form of the 2008 Beijing Auto Show.

The Convention Center, I’m told, is something like 660,000 square meters. Hard to fathom how big that is until you see it. Clearly, a lot of effort went into planning it. But as 8-year-old Shay said, “I think they should have fixed up the roads before they opened the building.” It seems that, in the weeks before it opened, someone suddenly thought “perhaps we need more than a 2-lane road from the highway in order to get people to this convention center.” So now they are busily tearing up roads around the center, which has the short-term effect of making the roads impassable. Long-term, who knows? They appear to be adding one extra lane, but I don’t know if they plan to put in lights or bike lanes or crosswalks. Supposedly there is a parking lot somewhere in the complex, but it is only partially finished, or it isn’t big enough, or people won’t pay to park there – depends which rumor mill you subscribe to.

All of this means that while the auto show goes on, we’re all trapped in our houses. You don’t want to leave the compound between 8 and 6 if you don’t have to. The roads are clogged with buses and taxis and double-parked cars. People have been leaving their cars in muddy ditches by the side of the road and walking down the middle of the street to get to the show. I needed to run errands yesterday, and the guards had blocked off the parking lot to the little shopping plaza across the street. They let me in when they saw I was a shopper, not an auto show goer, but it took quite awhile just to get there, get past the crowds and then get into the lot itself to park. If I weren’t 9 months pregnant, I’d just ride my bike, but I don’t think I could climb onto it at this point.

And speaking of pregnant, I’m hoping I don’t burst until after the auto show ends. Otherwise, I suspect I’ll be delivering in a taxi somewhere on Jingshun Lu.

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