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The weeks long traffic jam
August 24, 2010 8:01 AM   Subscribe

A 60-mile traffic jam in northern China has entered its tenth day, and could last for weeks longer.
posted by The Devil Tesla (94 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
I would have abandoned my car and walked the rest of the way by this point.
posted by zizzle at 8:03 AM on August 24, 2010


Hello and welcome to industrialization.
posted by Azazel Fel at 8:05 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


How do you say "Everybody Hurts" in Chinese?
posted by mhoye at 8:05 AM on August 24, 2010 [25 favorites]


Gridlock!
posted by jbickers at 8:06 AM on August 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


Though there were no reports of road rage violence, drivers complained about price-gouging by villagers who were their only source of food and water. A bottle of water that normally costs 1 yuan (15 cents) was selling for 10 yuan ($1.50), while the price of a 3 yuan- (45 cent-) cup of instant noodles had more than tripled, media reports said.
So basically thanks to the flaws of Communist government these poor folks now get to learn about the flaws of glorious capitalism.

I'm less surprised that there hasn't been road rage as I am there hasn't been a full on revolt.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:06 AM on August 24, 2010 [9 favorites]


The entire plot of Falling Down has happened at least twelve times by now.
posted by griphus at 8:07 AM on August 24, 2010 [10 favorites]


I'm less surprised that there hasn't been road rage as I am there hasn't been a full on revolt.

The trucks look so tightly packed that there is little room to get up speed for a full-on truck bashing revolt.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:08 AM on August 24, 2010


People have been stuck in this thing for five days? North Americans freak out if you hesitate for more than two seconds after the light turns green.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:08 AM on August 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


I would have abandoned my car and walked the rest of the way by this point.

1. People in the article are talking about how they can't afford cups of ramen noodles. I sincerely doubt if you were one of these people, you would have thrown away a car.

2. Because after all, one of the best ways to help solve a massive traffic jam is to abandon a giant hunk of metal in the middle of the road.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:09 AM on August 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'm with zizzle. I'd have pulled over and parked, walked to an un-jammed street and taken the bus, then paid the tow fee later.

Of course things are different in China, so I don't know how well that would work. Also, if I was stuck on a bridge I'd just be making things worse by abandoning my car. That's just an all around crappy situation.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:10 AM on August 24, 2010


When you've been stuck in a traffic jam for more than a week, you are no longer commuting, you are officially camping.

[Also: obligatory Doctor Who Gridlock reference goes here.]
posted by quin at 8:10 AM on August 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


Well, this puts Route 1 in perspective.

mhoye: my Mandarin's a little rusty, but -- "人人都慘遭"?
posted by en forme de poire at 8:11 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


If everyone in China all honked their horns at once, would it throw the earth out of orbit?
posted by notmydesk at 8:11 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


The 21st Century never disappoints.
posted by The Whelk at 8:12 AM on August 24, 2010 [13 favorites]


I have to pee just thinking about this.
posted by sonika at 8:13 AM on August 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


Related.
posted by sciurus at 8:13 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


This strikes me as something you would read in The Onion rather than real news.

How does a week-long traffic jam even work? Do you idle? Is it stop and go or total gridlock?
posted by Brodiggitty at 8:13 AM on August 24, 2010


Is Phish going to delay the show until things are cleared up?
posted by bondcliff at 8:14 AM on August 24, 2010 [11 favorites]


The entire plot of Falling Down has happened at least twelve times by now.

Ugh. Thanks for reminding me of this horrible monstrosity of a film.

I am so glad I do not live in this part of China. Last time my commute hit 30 minutes, I moved because I couldn't stand it. I am not good at waiting in lines.
posted by freecellwizard at 8:15 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Drivers stranded in the gridlock in the Inner Mongolia region and Hebei province, headed toward Beijing, passed the time sleeping, walking around, or playing cards and chess.

Heh, reminds me of Week End.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:15 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


A summary of Julio Cortazar's The Southern Thruway:

It is the end of vacation and everyone is heading back to Paris. Near Fontainebleau, a traffic jam occurs. No one moves. Soon hours pass, then days, until we’re not sure how long this event lasts. As time goes on, people in the neighboring cars gather to share food, water, medicine, and gossip. Soon they have fabricated communities with certain people selected to do certain jobs.

posted by Omon Ra at 8:16 AM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


If it were shown to me free of context, I would guess that first photo to be from Blade Runner.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:18 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


We are totally dropping the ball in regards to futuristic dystopias.
posted by The Whelk at 8:24 AM on August 24, 2010 [14 favorites]


Though there were no reports of road rage violence, drivers complained about price-gouging by villagers who were their only source of food and water. A bottle of water that normally costs 1 yuan (15 cents) was selling for 10 yuan ($1.50), while the price of a 3 yuan- (45 cent-) cup of instant noodles had more than tripled, media reports said.

Ha! They should see the prices in a UK service station.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:28 AM on August 24, 2010


This is science fiction. I am very creeped out. It is literally science fiction.

There was a story in Omni back in the day about a traffic jam that just sat there for days. The authorities at first dropped food and water from helicopters. But eventually they just gave up and the helicopters started dropping wet cement. They just buried the whole thing, people and all, smoothed out the top, painted lines on it and bam, no traffic jam and new roadway.

And frankly, that sounds like something the Chinese would do. Very creeped out.
posted by Naberius at 8:29 AM on August 24, 2010 [14 favorites]


This kind of demand for highway capacity combined with a corrupt, authoritarian government plays out like some kind of Robert Moses wet dream.
posted by TrialByMedia at 8:33 AM on August 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'd have pulled over and parked, walked to an un-jammed street and taken the bus, then paid the tow fee later.

Look at the last picture of the article. That's literally impossible.
posted by desjardins at 8:35 AM on August 24, 2010


Genuine question here: why don't some people just turn around? I realise this would be a problem if everyone did it, but aren't there at least some cocky bastads who think 'fuck this' and try and find another way in?
posted by litleozy at 8:35 AM on August 24, 2010


I cannot imagine this. Too claustrophobic for words.

Last weekend I did some traveling in the NYC/Boston area and was appalled by the traffic. It drove my blood pressure sky-high and caused me to use vocabulary I've not employed in quite some time.

Fortunately the area where I reside has great roads which are well-maintained and relatively lightly traveled. Even during the worst blizzards or rainstorms imaginable our local constabulary keep things moving at a brisk clip. I am admittedly spoiled and am unwilling to put up with less. We also have good local bike trails and reasonable public transport.

The traffic situation in China can only become worse. It's already epic and is definitely the stuff of science fiction. I am shocked at how rapidly the horrors are piling up lately--and all were foretold by "scary, depressing" movies about the future shown in my junior and senior high school, mostly about pollution and overpopulation.

The future is now.
posted by kinnakeet at 8:38 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


And I thought Atlanta was bad.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:38 AM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


why don't some people just turn around?

Turn around where? How? If there are 1000 cars in front of you and 1000 behind you and both sides of the highway are blocked in by barriers, your car isn't going anywhere. You could abandon it and walk home but you'd probably never see your car again and it might be a more affordable option for a lot of people to just wait it out.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:39 AM on August 24, 2010


I have two questions:

1. What if individuals run out of money? If I were stranded today with the contents of my wallet , there's no way I could afford days of food, especially inflated to triple or even ten times the price ($1.50 for a 15-cent bottle of water- that'd be like an American paying $10 for a bottle of water!). Can you promise credit to a peasant on a bike who's gouging you for ramen noodles? I think I'd just try to buy his bike and pedal to the grocery store myself.

Number two- literally- where the hell are they pooing?!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:41 AM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Also, the other side of the highway looks clear (leading away from Beijing). I can't believe they haven't busted that fence and made U-turns outta there. Surely a few little cars could make a tight U-turn to get out, freeing up more space so eventually some big trucks could turn, too.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:44 AM on August 24, 2010


I just don't understand how this is possible.
posted by amro at 8:45 AM on August 24, 2010


Here is the story from Omni in 1979 called The Great Moveway Jam (PDFs). As mentioned by sciurus above, it was previously discussed in a AskMe thread.
posted by Argyle at 8:46 AM on August 24, 2010 [23 favorites]


The traffic jam from Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:46 AM on August 24, 2010


On preview...
posted by Joe Beese at 8:48 AM on August 24, 2010


Also related: Average driving speeds in [Beijing] will likely drop below 15 km per hour (~9.3 mph) in five years if the number of vehicles continues increasing while no further measures are taken.
Guo Jifu, head of the Beijing Transportation Research Center, said the number of vehicles on the road increased by 1,900 per day on average in the first half year. If the growth rate continued, the total number of vehicles would hit 7 million by 2015.
Solutions include odd-even license plate number traffic controls, staggered work hours, and a significant ramping up of public transit projects.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:48 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


The resulting Chinese fire drill reconfiguration is so complex they will have to bring in Futurama writers to get everyone back in their original cars.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:49 AM on August 24, 2010 [18 favorites]


I cannot understand how this could happen. How does a traffic jam even become 60 miles long? Shouldn't the people in it long since given up and turned around (from the back)? Wouldn't they have done so 3-4 hours in, leaving from the back first?

It's such that I'm choosing to believe this isn't actually happening, that it's all a lie.
posted by hincandenza at 8:50 AM on August 24, 2010


I would have abandoned my car and walked the rest of the way by this point.

I'm with zizzle. I'd have pulled over and parked, walked to an un-jammed street and taken the bus, then paid the tow fee later.


Look at the pix, though. The majority of these people aren't individual commuters in cars, or even families. It's mostly long haul truckers. They're not going to abandon company property on the side of the road for looters, and they're not going to walk away from their livelihoods.

I am also concerned as to where they are pooping. I would not want to go for a midnight stroll along the side of that road.
posted by elizardbits at 8:51 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Alas, I cannot find the brilliant MP3, so lyrics will have to suffice: an existential punishment where Hell is other cars...
posted by Westringia F. at 8:52 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just don't get it. Why can't the very last car back up, turn around and leave? Then you have the next vehicle in line do the same thing and so on.
posted by Sassyfras at 8:54 AM on August 24, 2010


Came here to mention the Omni article too...
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:54 AM on August 24, 2010


Number two- literally- where the hell are they pooing?!

Uh, guys, did you take a look at that last picture?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:56 AM on August 24, 2010


This puts my us101 commute into perspective.
posted by cj_ at 8:57 AM on August 24, 2010


From reading a couple of these articles: the highway is full of trucks carrying coal from Inner Mongolia to Beijing. The drivers are used to extreme delays getting into Beijing and probably carry lots of extra food and water. I haven't been there but I'd speculate drivers are walking into nearby villages to eat and use the bathroom.

Trucks are an exceedingly inefficient way to move coal around -- a medium-sized train can carry 10,000 tons of coal, while the very best trucks can only carry 50 tons or so (and these are not the very best trucks!). But China's rail lines are overcrowded...mostly with trains carrying people. The solution is to build a freight-only train line to Inner Mongolia, but that will take a few years.
posted by miyabo at 8:58 AM on August 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


Earlier this year I got stuck behind a jackknifed flatbed on the BQE, whose payload was a crane that flipped up and whacked an overpass during the crash, natch, and it took me a full four hours to get from the Staten Island side of the Verrazano to Williamsburg. Two and a half hours in it felt like the worst acid trip ever. Getting off the BQE didn't even help much because there was gridlock extending for about a ten block radius from the exit ramp as everyone tried to bail out. I thought at times I would alternately sob, smash my head on the steering wheel or jump out and beat random passersby to death. I can't imagine that going on for like 65000 more hours, I would seriously gnaw through my own veins to commit suicide if that's what it took.
posted by The Straightener at 8:58 AM on August 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


And frankly, that sounds like something the Chinese would do. Very creeped out.

Wait, what? I'm no fan of the current regime, which has a piss-poor human rights record, but on what are you basing this crazy accusation?
posted by peripathetic at 8:59 AM on August 24, 2010 [11 favorites]


Why can't the very last car back up, turn around and leave?

I'm going to take a guess that most of the drivers don't have laptops or iPhones. How would they have any knowledge of what was going on in the front of the line? For all they know, there is a temporary accident a half mile ahead and it will clear up in an hour or two. My husband and I were stuck on I-294 in the Chicago suburbs when they flooded this summer, and there was no way to exit the highway; people were driving on the shoulder. If a bridge had gone out, we would have sat there until word came from the front that it was pointless to wait. And then I don't know what we would have done; I guess we would have had to abandon the car, walk somewhere and wait for it to be towed.
posted by desjardins at 9:11 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


If there are 1000 cars in front of you and 1000 behind you

Except at some point you reach the beginning or end of the jam. Somebody isn't doing something right on an epic scale at those two choke points.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:15 AM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Most of the vehicles in the jam look to be trucks hauling stuff into the cities. I assume that if you were a driver and got desperate enough, you could probably start pilfering from the back of the truck and bartering with it. Hopefully it's something good that the villagers want.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:19 AM on August 24, 2010


> Heh, reminds me of Week End.

Mixed with La Chinoise.
posted by languagehat at 9:24 AM on August 24, 2010


Guys, seriously, I honestly doubt that there's just a couple thousand idiots sitting there on the highway not realizing they could "just turn around" if that was an actual possibility. I'd love more information as well but obviously there's a reason this isn't happening.

I live two miles from Turner Field in Atlanta, and it once took me three hours to get home from a Braves game. The intertwining of cars and trucks in a small space can cause exponential knits and knots that can literally crash things to a halt. This is now sixty miles long. Combine that with the fact that, as many have noted, many of these people have likely abandoned their vehicles, at least on temporary levels. And up "at the front" there's a blocked road from construction that can't just stop and magically have more lanes appear. This is beyond "well get a guy up front to direct it" shit. They have nowhere to go.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:27 AM on August 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


For one thing, turning a semi around in two lanes is not the easiest thing in the world.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:28 AM on August 24, 2010


Except at some point you reach the beginning or end of the jam. Somebody isn't doing something right on an epic scale at those two choke points.

Maybe it's a Moebius strip of a traffic jam?
posted by Servo5678 at 9:29 AM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


And frankly, that sounds like something the Chinese would do. Very creeped out.

...yes, because that's exactly what the Chinese government is planning while they're loungin' about, stroking their Fu Manchu moustaches and talking in bad accents.

I'm no fan of what's going on over there, but c'mon.

Back on topic: It also looks (via google maps) that that expressway is pretty much the only one to/from Beijing from Hubei, and from the photo in the article, there's concrete barriers separating northbound/southbound lanes, and no soft shoulder to turn around on.
posted by zennish at 9:36 AM on August 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm going to take a guess that most of the drivers don't have laptops or iPhones. How would they have any knowledge of what was going on in the front of the line?

Well, they probably have radios, and if NPR is reporting on this jam it's probably on the news in China as well.

IMHO given that it's mostly truckers in the jam from the pictures they'd presumably have to go somewhere after leaving; it might not be possible to reach their destination by any other route if their vehicles are large, and going home might be a long drive anyway. Sure, they could turn around and wait out the traffic jam somewhere else, but it wouldn't get them to their destination any faster.

Also, some trucks used for long-distance transport include sleeping space for the driver. It could be that, were this traffic jam not here, the drivers would still be sleeping in their trucks - just they'd be driving all day instead of playing cards all day.
posted by Mike1024 at 9:41 AM on August 24, 2010


And frankly, that sounds like something the Chinese would do. Very creeped out.

If we're full-on stereotyping, it frankly sounds more like something Americans would do, given the right conditions.
posted by blucevalo at 9:43 AM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


If you have to put "on preview" in a second comment, it means you did not preview.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:51 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Actually, looking at that last picture, it makes me wonder why they didn't open up any of the other lanes for contraflow traffic, even just for specified times of the day.
posted by chimaera at 9:52 AM on August 24, 2010


A lot of commentary on the Internet here blames the numerous (and often illegal in the sense that there's regulations stipulating how far apart they should be) toll gates on the exit ramps slowing down the big wagons, but there's obviously just far too much traffic too. Apparently there are a fair few private cars caught up in it, people who made the unfortunate decision to drive out of the city for the weekend (last weekend I presume), plus the heavy rain won't have helped.
I've been caught in day-long jams but only in some really remote places with narrow mountain roads where two trucks meeting head on is enough to block it. Even there the police got it sorted eventually. Anyway, must dash - have to get these boxes of instant noodle up to my roadside stall. Holiday in Hawaii next year!
posted by Abiezer at 9:57 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised people aren't running out of gas. But from the pictures on NPR, it looks like more of a parking lot. People have time to get out of their vehicles, sleep under trucks, play board games, or wash off. It's not like the traffic jams in the states where we inch forward little by little.

From the articles I've read, it's not clear whether people are really just sitting there for days, or if they're getting to and from where they need to go, but just keep going every day. Like southbound on the Merritt from New Haven to New York every morning -- on bad days, that's a big traffic jam.
posted by indigo4963 at 9:57 AM on August 24, 2010


I think the real problem is that it sounds like the people stuck in the traffic jam don't care that they're stuck in a traffic jam. The truckers have their loads that they, for whatever reason, feel they must deliver, no ifs-ands-or-buts. They're not willing to turn around, and the truckers behind them that keep adding to the mess are unwilling to not take the (possibly only) route and just wait until traffic has cleared.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:05 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Somewhat related: Surviving Two Billion Cars

Of particular note:
Shanghai caps the number of new private car registrations annually, auctions auto registrations, limits parking, and makes it difficult to obtain a driver’s license. The city is considering a plan to charge cars for entering the central business district, as now exists in London. Shanghai’s more restrictive policies have led to a slower rate of car growth. With about the same population and wealth as Beijing, Shanghai residents own only one car for every six in Beijing.
Not sure if congestion charging, mass transit investment and high auto taxes could've solved this particular mess, but it seems worth noting that even within China itself there are administrators taking more reasonable approaches to rapid urbanization.
posted by gompa at 10:18 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Re that Omni story, The Great Moveway Jam, which seems to have left such a mark on so many readers, author John Keefauver seems to have been quite obsessed with the idea himself.

So much so that he apparently rewrote the concept as a short comic novel for middle grade readers (!??) called Three Day Traffic Jam, published by Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing in 1992.

According to one review, this book, in which 11-year-old Henry and his friend TJ take Henry's dad's car out for a spin on the freeway and cause the titular traffic jam, explicitly refers to the continuity of the Moveway Jam story: The Los Angeles traffic jam described in this farcical novel is shorter than the one in 1999 that "lasted eleven months and was two hundred miles long and eighty miles wide."
posted by Naberius at 10:22 AM on August 24, 2010


from the pictures on NPR, it looks like more of a parking lot. People have time to get out of their vehicles, sleep under trucks, play board games, or wash off. It's not like the traffic jams in the states where we inch forward little by little.

Isn't that a big part of the problem? You're stuck behind someone who's gone for food/toilet/nap and see a space open up in front of him, but you can't move until he does. By the time you both do, the guy behind you has wandered off...
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:39 AM on August 24, 2010


On our way home to Texas after getting married, my beloved and I hit a traffic jam in Arkansas in the middle of the night (an articulated tractor-trailer had flipped over on the next offramp, onto a car, killing its occupants). We were trapped for over 4 hours in the middle of the night in late August with no air conditioning, being eaten alive by mosquitoes (I stopped counting after I hit 30 bites on one leg). We felt bad moaning about being stuck in a traffic jam, when people were dead up ahead...but it was still pretty unpleasant, boiling hot and humid, clouds of biting insects and no wind. I can't imagine weeks of it.
posted by biscotti at 10:39 AM on August 24, 2010


From what I gather, this isn't a "traffic jam" in the way most of us understand it. It's more like a "big line of trucks, parked and waiting for the road to open."

Although sadly, "Professional Truckers Wait Patiently For Road Construction To Be Completed" isn't nearly as snappy a headline as "Week-Long Traffic Jam."
posted by ErikaB at 11:02 AM on August 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


From reading a couple of these articles: the highway is full of trucks carrying coal from Inner Mongolia to Beijing. The drivers are used to extreme delays getting into Beijing and probably carry lots of extra food and water. I haven't been there but I'd speculate drivers are walking into nearby villages to eat and use the bathroom.

Trucks are an exceedingly inefficient way to move coal around -- a medium-sized train can carry 10,000 tons of coal, while the very best trucks can only carry 50 tons or so (and these are not the very best trucks!). But China's rail lines are overcrowded...mostly with trains carrying people. The solution is to build a freight-only train line to Inner Mongolia, but that will take a few years.
posted by miyabo at 4:58 PM on August 24 [+] [!]



Such a freight line already exists. Read up on the Daqin railway.

It carries coal exclusively and is the busiest rail line, as measured in tonnage, in the world!

Here's a clip showing two coal trains passing on this line. It should start to give an idea of the enormity of the need for power that the growing wealth of the chinese population effect.
Other posters above have used the phrase 'The real problems is..'
This jam is the result of planners trying to gauge demands for computers and refrigerators 5 years in advance, planning for the necessary tansport infrastructure, and getting things only slightly wrong.
In a country like China a few percent difference in wealth can mean millions of tons coal more burned in the power plants.
posted by Catfry at 11:04 AM on August 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


This reminded me of the tagline from the show Deadliest Journeys: Think you have the commute from hell? Think again.
posted by desjardins at 11:06 AM on August 24, 2010


On the positive side, this is a fantastic opportunity to learn patience.
posted by LordSludge at 11:10 AM on August 24, 2010


On the positive side, this is a fantastic opportunity to learn patience.

Or practice it.
posted by davejay at 11:23 AM on August 24, 2010


Here's a clip showing two coal trains passing on this line

Jesus christ, that first one had over 100 cars.
posted by elizardbits at 11:31 AM on August 24, 2010


A massive traffic jam ...for dozens of miles...stems from road construction

This is why I left Pennsylvania forever.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:33 AM on August 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


I hope they're getting paid by the hour.
posted by goethean at 11:39 AM on August 24, 2010


Wait, what? I'm no fan of the current regime, which has a piss-poor human rights record, but on what are you basing this crazy accusation?

...yes, because that's exactly what the Chinese government is planning while they're loungin' about, stroking their Fu Manchu moustaches and talking in bad accents.

You guys have heard of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, right? Or, for something with a much more direct lineage to the current regime, the Tiananmen Square Massacre?

I don't think the CCP would really do anything like what happened in the Keefauver story, but if they had the technology, felt the need, and the world wasn't watching, I wouldn't put it past them.

(One thing I didn't understand with the story though is why they didn't let the people just abandon their cars and leave the jam. You could still pave over the road + cars. But I've only skimmed it so I probably missed something.)
posted by kmz at 12:02 PM on August 24, 2010


Back in 2002, the organizers of the first Bonnaroo music festival in rural Tennessee seemed to have given virtually no thought to a traffic plan. We hit the traffic jam about 1am at which point the lines were 13+ miles long. It took us until nearly 4pm to get in. Most of the other people in line were headed to the concert, so we didn't mind terribly - the scene was actually not so far from that described in the article except we'd all packed 3 days worth of food and drink. There were tons of people playing cards or dice in the middle of the lanes. I tried to go rock climbing along the side where the highway cut through a hill. Many people turned their cars off and pushed them to save on gas. All in all not so bad. For us. For the 10-20% of people who had no idea there was anything going on there and were just trying to drive across Tennessee, it was hell.

These sorts of things aren't unknown at big music festivals - a friend spent 38 hours in traffic for the Phish festival in Coventry VT - but usually there's a plan so that locals and regular highway users don't get stuck with the hippies. To Bonnaroo's credit, by the next year they had things sorted out and we only waited 4 hours, and locals could get through with no problem.

The thing that blows my mind the most in the article though is the capture on one of the pictures where a truck driver is stopped on an on-ramp. There's a week-long, 60 mile traffic jam, and this guy is purposely getting ON that highway?
posted by krakedhalo at 12:14 PM on August 24, 2010


The problem is not really the road. It's Beijing. It cannot take in more than a certain amount of vehicles at a time. I doubt these trucks would be allowed to enter Beijing by any other route. Think of it less as a traffic jam and more of a waiting area where you wait before you can enter Beijing. Similar things in not quite as big proportions (waits in days instead of weeks) are quite common on the Russian border here in Finland.
posted by Authorized User at 12:56 PM on August 24, 2010


Oh for Pete's sake, does Metafilter have some kind of built-in derail squad now?

For the record, I was not "accusing" the Chinese government of anything peripatetic. And I wasn't addressing any stereotype of the Chinese people - I don't even know what you're talking about there, blucevalo.

I was describing a certain sense of resonance between that Keefauver story and the current situation, amplified by my recognition that China is a nation with a very long and remarkably rich history of treating its large population as disposable inputs to various massive works projects, and especially of suppressing, disappearing, or outright exterminating people-sometimes by the thousands-when their continued existence becomes inconvenient to the state. The most recent example I'm aware of.

For the record, I don't really think the Chinese government is going to bury this whole thing in concrete and build a new road on top of it. (On the other hand, back in '89 when I was marching around campus with the Chinese students, I didn't really think they were going to roll tanks into Tianamen square and kill all those democracy protesters either. And then destroy all evidence of what they'd done to the point that modern Chinese students either really have no idea the protests ever happened or are too afraid to admit they're aware of them.)
posted by Naberius at 1:05 PM on August 24, 2010


Here are some trucks waiting to cross the Finland-Russia border
posted by Anything at 1:23 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Naberius: "This is science fiction. I am very creeped out. It is literally science fiction."

No it's not. It's reality in the third world shipping business. You see those photos from NPR? They're all commercial trucks, hauling raw materials into the city. Normally, it isn't this bad anywhere but border crossings. Supposedly the problem is construction. Perhaps they're right; there's talk that Beijing is undergoing a real estate bubble.
posted by pwnguin at 1:29 PM on August 24, 2010


You guys have heard of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, right? Or, for something with a much more direct lineage to the current regime, the Tiananmen Square Massacre?

Yeah, I had family in Beijing in 1989.
posted by zennish at 1:33 PM on August 24, 2010


That's not a traffic jam, it's a very slow moving mostly linear city.
posted by odinsdream at 1:41 PM on August 24, 2010


This is science fiction. I am very creeped out. It is literally science fiction.

It reminded me of Jonathan Lethem's "Access Fantasy," where the rich, attractive people live luxurious apartment lives, while the lumpenproles are stuck in a neverending traffic jam.

Oh yeah, what argyle said.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:55 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Earlier this year I got stuck behind a jackknifed flatbed on the BQE, whose payload was a crane that flipped up and whacked an overpass during the crash, natch, and it took me a full four hours to get from the Staten Island side of the Verrazano to Williamsburg.

When I lived in New Jersey 20+ years ago, I was at a party one time and a guy who did traffic reports for one of the radio stations was also there. He did traffic reports to entertain us, whacking his chest for the traffic helicopter noise. You could call out requests: "Jackknifed flatbed on the BQE!" and he'd do it for you in that familiar voice. It was hilarious, for some reason, and has really stuck in my memory as just about the most fun I ever had at a party.
posted by not that girl at 2:11 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Supposedly the problem is construction

They must be constructing buildings in the middle of the road.
posted by theredpen at 3:56 PM on August 24, 2010


This seems more akin to stories of container ships having to wait days outside a port. Which is still pretty messed up, but not quite the same as getting stuck for 10 days on your way home from work. These trucks are delivering cargo, they don't have an alternate path, so they wait until they can proceed.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:07 PM on August 24, 2010


Last year I got caught in a jam on the Jersey Turnpike heading south from NY to DC. For those who don't know, the Turnpike is usually the smoothest part of that trip, because there are so few exits to tie things up.

But when a tanker jackknifes, that means that there's no way for people to take an alternate route. It literally took seven hours to go seven miles. In a similar situation around the same time, some friends of mine just had to sleep in their car and wait it out until morning.

This is insane, though. But to be clear, it has little to do with Chinese totalitarianism. It has to do with rapid industrialization in a country without the infrastructure to properly support it yet.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:42 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I really didn't want to take the "would the Chinese government actually just pave over the traffic jam, people and all?" detour any farther, but someone talked me into it.

1) Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward? How long has it been since then? Are people's opinions of America still shaped by the Jim Crow laws?

2) Naberius, I don't think I understand the connection between the bank layoffs article and Tiananmen Square. Yes, I'll grant you, if the Chinese government were still pulling stuff like Tiananmen Square that would be evidence in favor of your hypothesis that they would just dump concrete over a highway full of stranded motorists. But I don't think the bank story provides that evidence. Yeah, they arrested the protesters, and that's not defensible from a civil rights standpoint, but there's a difference in degree, if not in kind, between arresting people and running them over with tanks. Or burying them in cement.
posted by inara at 4:48 PM on August 24, 2010


What's really scary is I hadn't heard of this story until it was already an eight-day traffic jam. Anything less than that is the new normal for those poor truckers.
posted by chairface at 5:22 PM on August 24, 2010


And now it's disappeared.

Ummm.... the hell?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:36 PM on August 25, 2010


Bum bum ...bah!
posted by The Whelk at 3:11 PM on August 25, 2010


Oh Improv Everywhere. You scamps!
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:00 AM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


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