The wrong side of the road
Traffic gridlock in Beijing's Central Business District. The rapid rise in the number of vehicles on the roads has resulted in congestion becoming a major problem in China's modern cities.[GONG LEI/XINHUA]
As vehicle numbers soar, traffic jams are becoming a fact of life on China's overcrowded urban highways.
When you ask people about the challenges that will confront China in the coming years of development, traffic gridlock will always be near the top of the list.
Last year, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences polled more than 20,000 residents in 38 cities nationwide, and its subsequent report showed that more than 83 percent of urban residents expressed concerns about traffic congestion, and 16.5 percent of them felt the problem was "extremely serious".
According to iiMedia Research, an agency that researches mobile Internet usage, the number of users of mobile web-mapping services, which use cellular data to monitor traffic congestion in cities, is also rising rapidly, reaching 472 million in the second quarter of this year, up from the 448 million in the first quarter.
This army of mobile web-mappers contributes to reports on traffic congestion through localized data, including speed, direction of travel and time. That's adding a new dimension to the way the speed of traffic on the nation's roads is monitored, and enables the providers of mobile web-mapping services to share their views on the traffic situation.
"Our data show that congestion is spreading quickly from first-tier cities to second- and third-tier cities, some of which are poorly prepared for dealing with the problem in terms of infrastructure," said Dong Zhenning, technology vice-president of AutoNavi Software Co, which monitors the situation on the roads in more than 100 cities across the country.
Baidu Inc, which has the largest number of users of mobile web-mapping services in China, has also reported a growing number of gridlocks in second- and third-tier cities. In an e-mailed response to questions from China Daily, the company said the rising number of traffic jams is a consequence of a rise in the number of cars in smaller cities, which, unlike large urban centers such as Beijing and Shanghai, have no restrictions on vehicle purchases.
A quarterly report on traffic conditions in 38 cities published by AutoNavi in August showed that during the second quarter, Shanghai had the most severe rush hour congestion, followed closely by Hangzhou in Zhejiang province, and Beijing. Other cities in the top 10 included the southwestern municipality of Chongqing; Shenzhen and Guangzhou, both in Guangdong province; and Fuzhou in Fujian province.
The report also noted that in Shanghai, gridlocks meant that car journeys usually took 2.16 times longer than they would if the roads were clear; in Hangzhou, journeys were 2.1 times longer than the norm; while in Beijing, the figure was 2.09 times.
Quite different to the way data is gathered by the traffic authorities—which use vehicle-detection loops to detect vehicles passing or arriving at a certain point—AutoNavi's reports are based on floating car data, and information is gathered via the collection of localization data, speed, travel direction and time information from cellphones in vehicles.
"We not only monitor the traffic flow on specific sections of road, but also learn about where the vehicles come from and where they are headed. That gives us a much deeper understanding of why a specific section of road is overcrowded," Dong said.