Friday, May 14, 2010

Bad decisions

My friend JES recently sent me this link to a 'live traffic' view of central Beijing on Google Maps. Of course, it's no great surprise to those of us who have to live here, but even so, it is rather disturbing to see this graphical confirmation that much of the city centre - the whole of the northern half of the 2nd Ringroad, and the eastern side of the 3rd Ringroad especially - is snarled in near-permanent gridlock.

And last night's The Beijinger Bar & Club Awards were being held in Mako Live House (about the remotest and most obscure venue they could possibly have chosen!) way out on the east side of town. I knew there was bugger-all point in trying to get there by road during the rush hour, but.....

A lady friend of the folks I was going with had insisted on offering us a lift in her car.

Well, she didn't have enough room for everyone, so I thought I was off the hook - I'll go on the subway and get there half an hour before you. So long, suckers.

But JK, the sternly autocratic boss of 12 Square Metres, was quite insistent that I should hop in and ride at least as far as the point where they were picking him up.

I knew it was a bad idea, but I was trying to be friendly and amenable (rather against my nature, you know).

Now, our lady driver for some reason didn't want to execute a three-point turn and drive out of the south end of Nanluoguxiang. (I suppose we wouldn't have been able to turn east until we got to Houhai half a mile or so away, but at this point Dianmen Dongdajie wasn't too busy. Maybe it's prohibited to drive south on Nanluoguxiang, but plenty of people do it, and we were only 20 metres from the bottom of the street....)

Some of the side-roads may be closed to traffic, or one-way only (I've never really paid attention to this), but not all of them. I really don't know why we went nearly all the way to the top of Nanluoguxiang before hanging a right. And then, by cruel mischance, we happened to have chosen a side street that was particularly badly blocked with clumsily parked vehicles.

So, it took us nearly ten minutes to reach Jiaodaokou Nandajie - the southbound lane of which was completely gridlocked. Again, I'm not sure why this street suffers so especially badly. You'd think that, in the rush hour, traffic would be trying to escape the city centre, heading north, but.... well, on this one street, there's a ton of southbound traffic and hardly anything going north. Strange.

Anyway, it took us well over 10 minutes to reach the bottom of the street. And we didn't have any opportunity to pull over into the left-hand lane (although our driver hadn't taken account of the fact that we needed to, anyway). When we finally got to the bottom of the street, instead of attempting an illegal but not terribly difficult left turn from the outside lane, or heading straight across and going around the next block (a long way, but the road ahead looked mercifully light on traffic), our driver unaccountably elected to turn right..... on to Dianmen Dongdajie, which 20 or 30 minutes earlier had been uncannily devoid of traffic, but was now completely log-jammed (at least in the westbound direction, not so bad coming back). It took us a long, long time to get down to Houhai where we could make our U-turn and finally start heading back in the right direction.

So it was that, nearly 35 minutes after setting out, we came to pass the south end of Nanluoguxiang again - giving us an effective average rate of progress of only 1 or 2 metres per minute.

I jumped out at Zhang ZiZhong Lu and took the subway.

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