Monday, April 4, 2011

Shanghai Traffic Alert

OK, this one is more than a little unfair and culturally insensitive, but the following traffic alert caught my eye and I can't resist passing on my reaction.

" Urban traffic is expected to face increased congestion for the rest of this month, caused by seasonal and other special events, local traffic authorities said yesterday. During the two weeks prior to the Qingming Festival on April 5, or China's traditional tomb-sweeping day, travel demand will surge. Drivers should avoid using the Shanghai-Nanjing and Shanghai-Jiaxing expressways, especially in the rush hours, during this time, officials said yesterday.

After the jump, about that tomb-sweeping day.

My reaction to the traffic alert? China may be kicking America's ass economically, but we've got way better holidays than they do. We have Christmas and New Year's and the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. What do they have? Tomb-Sweeping Day? Case closed.

OK, I admit, it's unfair. America's Halloween is a corrupted version of the Day of the Dead. And we have Memorial Day, on which we pay some serious respect for the dead and decorate graves with flowers. That holiday was once even known as Decoration Day. It's just that I found the name "tomb-sweeping day" funny. That's culturally insensitive, I know. I'm sorry. Giggle.

Somewhat more seriously, I recently traveled the Shanghai-Jiaxing highway. It's wide and modern. China has been pouring billions into highways, high-speed railways and airports and it shows. But cities in China are still straining to handle all the new cars hitting the streets. There are a billion people in China and demand for space for all those cars is growing rapidly. Parking on central city sidewalks is the norm. Cars then have to drive on the sidewalks to get to that parking. Scooters and motorbikes use their added mobility to drive anywhere and everywhere, in any direction. The rule everywhere is weight rules -- bicycles yield to scooters yield to cars yield to buses. Pedestrians yield to everyone -- traffic lights, crosswalks, sidewalks be damned.

You'd think a nation with the fortitude to impose a one-child policy on its population might take a hard line to prevent cars from choking its cities. So far, you'd be wrong, although there are glimmers of recognition. For example, Nanjing Road in Shanghai, its famous shopping street, has been converted into a pedestrian promenade. It's now an enjoyable street to stroll while shopping for decorations for your ancestors' graves.

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