The silver lining in the great China traffic jam

The gridlock is insane, but so is Chinese investment in high-speed rail, subways and super-cool "straddle buses"

Topics: China, How the World Works, Chinese Economy, High speed rail,

The silver lining in the great China traffic jamA jammed section of the Beijing-Zhangjiakou highway in Huailai, in north China's Hebei province, on Aug. 24. The massive traffic jam that stretches for dozens of miles stems from road construction in Beijing that won't be finished until the middle of next month.

As a metaphor for everything that is wrong with pell-mell hydrocarbon-fueled industrial development, the massive Chinese traffic jam between Beijing and eastern Tibet, stretching for at least 100 miles and possibly lasting into mid-September, is just about perfect. Trucks loaded with coal from mines in inner Mongolia are stuck, sometimes moving as slowly as a third of a mile an hour, while en route to Beijing, where residents are adding 2,000 new cars a day to the already overcrowded streets, and the air quality appears to get ever more horrible, by the day.

Coal. Gas. Gridlock. Smog. Ain’t modernity great?

As part of the grand narrative that sees Chinese economic growth as an enormous environmental disaster, the China traffic jam packs a devastating punch. That endless line of trucks stuck in slow motion, laden with global-warming-igniting coal to fuel the factories pumping out China’s endless quantities of manufactured goods. What could possibly be worse?

Except, you can also imagine the great Chinese traffic jam as a mere speed bump, when placed in the context of what China is actively attempting to do to address its massive transportation bottlenecks.

In 2009, China spent $88 billion on high-speed railroad construction, reports Time magazine.

It will climb to $120 billion this year and exceed $700 billion over the next decade. The most ambitious focus of that investment is the expansion of China’s high-speed passenger rail. Right now, China is the world’s leader with 6,552 km of high-speed tracks (defined as those that can carry trains at speeds over 200 km/h). It plans to double that distance in two years.

Urban rapid transit development is even more astonishing. Fifteen years ago, Shanghai didn’t have a single mile of subway lines. Today, Shanghai boasts the largest — in terms of miles of track — subway system in the world, bigger than New York, London, or Japan. By 2020, reports the Transport Politic, Shanghai’s subway system alone “will have more rapid transit mileage than the entire country of Japan.”



The Shanghai Metro is now capable of handling about five million passengers a day; the system is likely to become the world’s most-used, passing Tokyo and Moscow, by the time the full construction program is complete.

Beijing is pursuing a similarly extension metro expansion project, but these cities aren’t alone: twelve Chinese municipalities currently have rapid transit, nineteen more have systems under construction, and an additional seventeen new networks are in planning. The national government has committed $150 billion to the projects by 2015, though additional funds originate from the municipalities themselves, such as the progressive and independent City of Shanghai. It’s a country-wide investment in urban transportation unparalleled in human history.

And then there’s my favorite — the partially solar-powered “straddle bus” that will carry passengers directly above urban highway traffic. It looks like science-fiction, but plans are in place to test a prototype in Beijing before the end of this year.

The bus, due to be tested in the coming months in the western part of the city, travels on rails and straddles two lanes of traffic, allowing cars to drive under its passenger compartment, which holds up to 1,400 people.

“We’re going to start laying down test tracks along a six-kilometer (four-mile) stretch towards the end of the year,” Song Youzhou, the chief executive of design firm Shenzhen Hashi Future Parking Equipment, told AFP on Tuesday.

Straddle buses, an unprecedented deployment of subway lines, more high-speed rail than the rest of the world combined; throw in staggering investment into clean and renewable energy and you can’t miss the conclusion: China may be a congested mess right now, but if the future is visible anywhere, it’s in the Middle Kingdom.

(The following introduction to the straddle bus is in Chinese, but if you cut to about two minutes into the video, you’ll see a pretty striking animation of how the thing is supposed to work.)

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>