Thoughts about Traffic Jam

Today is a No Car Day in Shanghai, and other 107 cities in China. On the No Car Day, let me write about some thoughts around huge traffic jam last week.

Last Monday, I decided to use public transportation – Metro – to go to work. My plan was drive to Century Park metro station which is 4 km away, then park-and-go. It turned out to the biggest mistake I made last week.

Traffic Jam

At the Jin Xiu Road and West Gao Ke Road, there was a traffic jam, and I waited in my car for almost one hour. I left home before 8:00 AM, and when I get to the Metro Station, it is already 9:00 AM. The 4 km (still within 30 minute walking distance) cost me 1 hour. The whole road of Jin Xiu Road was 100% empty after the crossroad, since all cars were caught in the jam.

The Mysterious Road Block

The root cause of the jam is a road block that occupied 2 lanes at the interaction. I assume there should be some construction work going on. The block turned the 4 lane road into a one lane road (the other lane was occupied by Metro Station construction site already).

What a mass! I waited in the long line for 40 minutes, and when I managed to get to the interaction of the two roads, I found I am in the middle of a huge maze. I am heading north, and the car left and right of me are heading south. The car before me is heading east, making it a perfect T-shape, and so does the car before this car.

If you look from above, there are tens of T-shapes, or 45 degree intersections. The result is, none of the cars can possibly move.

I waited there, and watch the traffic light. It turns red, yellow, green …. red, yellow, green… after many circles, any car didn’t move. I can tell you, it is boring to observe the traffic light changing when your car is in the middle of a cross road.

The Solution?

First of all, I don’t know if there is anyway for me, as an individual in this city, or this district of the city, or a citizen of the neighborhood, to sue the construction company for blocking the road. If they do that, they should have obtained a permit to do so. Can I check the permit or ask a city attorney (there is no such a role in China) to check it? If they just put the block there without any permit, is there a law that I can use to sue them?

In China, people will laugh at me if I ask this kind of western questions, since no one thinks that way. But why not? If we (all citizens in this neighborhood collectively) own this land, and this city, we should be able to find out a way to restrict some power (like those of the construction company) and find a balance between their interest and my interest (I don’t want to use the public interest, which term has been abused to describe some privileged group). The power without check and balance causes chaos.

If it is the road block causing the problem, is there ANY way to prevent it from happing again? If there is no law against it, can we approve a law?

When I try to seek the possibility, I feel desperate. The answer is simple: there is no way to influence any public policy (I am even not talking about the country level. I am talking about the street and neighborhood level), there is no way to sue government (since a legal system is not working when we talk about public affairs, not conflict between two companies. Well, to be fair, there ARE such mechanism, but as many other mechanism, it does not work), and there is no way to even raise the awareness of people about this importance of check and balance, and people’s right (that is the reason why blog or website trying to discuss these issues were shutdown). All these thoughts lead to a black hole, an endless black hole, which no result. Obviously, seeking for the change in this situation is strictly forbidden, but I believe it is good for the future of China.

9 thoughts on “Thoughts about Traffic Jam

  1. I feel for your pain. But I gotta say that the traffic jams can be just as bad (if not worse) in countries where you can sue or vote out the government :)

    BTW, not every western country is like the US in terms of being litigious. It’s only the Americans that think of suing first whenever they’ve got a problem. The rest of us don’t see that as something to be proud of.

  2. I’m so glad you confirmed that the 22nd was “No Car Day” Perhaps because I was working most of the day, or perhaps because I don’t have a car myself here and travel mainly by bus and metro, I’m afraid I did not notice a difference between “No Car Day” and any other day in Shanghai. Strange. But that must be why everyone kept complaining to me about how difficult it was to get a taxi that day–at the time I thought it was just because of the rain.


    This is my first time to your site, but your name and the existence of your blog has buzzed around me for the past two and a half years. Having read some of it now I’m very sorry to have not checked it out sooner. But as they say, better late than never!

  3. This problem has concerned me for a long time as well, not only those blocks, but more frustrating thing is those construction workers, they were holding long painting brushes or shovels and they have no idea standing in the middle of the road is creating more traffic problems and somewhat attempting to kill themselves as well. I especially like your idea of a city attorney, but like you said, people’s mindset is far too difficult to change.

    BTW, last Saturday(22nd), I was in Gubei grocery shopping, I was too shocked to realize the traffic was actually even more crazier than ever. Jianshuo, what do you think of the traffic situation last Saturday? Coz to me, I thought the plan was somewhat gonna affect many people? But it just didn’t work that way. I don’t want to say the idea of no car day is just a show-off case of the government, but I do not understand what’s the point of two other phenomena:

    a. since the government wants to show to the world how much they care about air pollution, why don’t they invest more to replace those old buses and vans with extremely untolerable pollution(I’m sure you’ve seen those bad-conditioned buses that emit thick black foggy thing)

    b. I heard that one of the highlights in the special Olympics to be held next month would be the fireworks directed by an Italian guy, which said to be comparable to the Olympics in Athens.

    Well, I feel very frustrated and confused, but all I can understand is to think in this way: there are different sections of the government run the various projects, and they don’t cross check what each department is engaged doing, and the most important is the big boss of the government never care to balance.

  4. @caroline, it is very nice observation. It took me a long time (didn’t thought about it before 2004, and took 3 years of observation) to understand something – the way government is organized is completely different in U.S and China, and many countries.

    Regarding the No Car Day, it is a good idea, but I am trying to seek for the logical and legal reasoning for this act.

    The question I want to ask is, who granted the right to the police department to announce a “No Car Day”, or even closed many streets? Seems a silly question, but hold on for a minute.

    The police department was authorized by the Shanghai government to do their job, which is a typical setting in many cities around the world. Then, where does the power of city government comes from? There is no process for delegation of the power from people (since there is no any form that the people can say no to any act). It turned out the right cames from Central Government, since every local official was appointed by the central government, and the central government grant the power. Then where does the power of the central government comes from? That is a question to continue to ask…

    Basically, the decision making process is the key person’s decision making process, not a collectively thinking result. So you see a lot of strange decisions everywhere, just because the uncertainty of a single individual’s mind.

  5. Dear Wang Jian Shou,

    I read your thoughts on traffic problems in Shanghai and thought I might offer a reply concerning my city – Qingdao. Although we have probably not reached the level of traffic congestion and anarchy of Shanghai yet, we soon will. I have long decided that the traffic situation in China is pretty much hopeless. Not so much for the lack of regulations and inforcement which certainly exist here too and probably contribute to the record levels of traffic accidents and related deaths each year, but for the lack of any discernible interest on the part of most drivers to pay any attention to laws, logic, common sense or have any semblance of plain consideration as soon as they get behing the wheel. Can anyone who has ever tried to cross a busy street in China refute this? Now, cars in my city, hungry for parking spaces, have taken over the sidewalks in busy commercial and residential areas forcing pedestrians into streets. This certainly ads to the chaos since pedestrians are often as negligent (or just plain as stupid) as many drivers. Even crossing lawfully at signalized crosswalks can be a life and death struggle, for there is no guarantee that anyone will pay any attention to the signal lights. Sorry Wang Jian Shou, short of capital punishment for errant drivers, the situalion is hopeless. This is particularly evident when you take into consideration the dark side of the “one child policy” and the anticipated increase in the number of new drivers each year. We observed the national non- traffic day here in Qingdao too – by not observing it! On Tuesday, the day of the Moon Festival, downtown traffic was more hopelessly snarled than usual. No doubt the government will claim credit for some obscure (and unverified) statistics showing a reduction of traffic and related air pollution on these special and rare occasions, but we who due battle in the streets every day know the truth, don’t we?


  6. Well said, if more ppl start thinking like you, JS, I think China will change and the promising future every analyst seems to forecast, will come true and in a very special and good way for all the Chinese people!

    Keep it up, even in the hard times and against the circumstances…

    Promote these ideas with your peers! you are very successful and many people can hear you and react!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *