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Surviving the traffic jam: how China faces with traffic challenges

Can you imagine what it would be like to spend 12 days stuck in a mile-long traffic jam? Or to be blocked on a 50-lane highway?

These historic traffic jams took place in 2010 and 2017 in China. The Asian giant is currently the second most populous country in the world with 1.4 billion inhabitants. India is currently the country with the largest population, but for many years China has held the top spot in the ranking.

The sheer volume of population and the regular travel during significant holidays such as Chinese New Year or national vacations present a major challenge for transportation planners in the world’s second largest economy.

The longest recorded traffic jam in history stretched for 100 km and held up some drivers for 12 days. The 2010 traffic jam occurred on the G110 highway. This road is one of the main routes in the country, connecting Hebei and Inner Mongolia provinces. This highway is of great logistical importance as it connects several major cities in northern China and forms a radial road to Beijing. For this reason, many heavy vehicles bound for the capital use it on a daily basis.

                                                                                                                   G110 National Highway

It was on August 14, 2010 when the historic traffic jam began. Thousands of vehicles were trapped on a 100 km stretch, and although traffic on this road had been very high for the past few months, on that day traffic exceeded the road’s limit by 60%. As recorded at the time, most drivers were only able to move one kilometer per day.

Several sources indicate that the cause of the traffic jam was a concatenation of a series of incidents, coupled with the already high volume of heavy vehicles traveling to Beijing. On the one hand, the maintenance works being carried out on the road, coupled with the slowness of the tolls along the highway and, finally, several traffic accidents. This combination, together with the increased traffic density that the capital had been experiencing for the past few days, was enough to generate the biggest traffic jam in history. Traffic in Beijing had increased excessively and traffic jams were part of everyday life. In 2010, average speeds of 25 km/h were recorded in the capital of the People’s Republic of China.

                                                                                 Largest traffic jam in history on the G110 National Highway

During the 15 days that the traffic jam lasted, drivers had to stock up on products offered by street vendors at a high price. Many drivers stated that the capacity of the road had been increasing in recent months, but they had never experienced such an unusual situation on this route. They confirmed that the delay made about 115 euros per day on average more expensive.

Another notable event occurred in 2017 on the Beijing – Hong Kong – Macau G4 highway access. On October 6, millions of inhabitants were returning home after a week of national vacations. During this week-long national vacation, many inhabitants move to visit their relatives. It is estimated that approximately 750 million people traveled during the week of October 1 and 7. It is important to consider that this corresponds to almost half of the country’s population.

The G4 highway, which has 50 toll lanes in the direction of Beijing, was not able to absorb this large number of vehicles. Despite its large capacity, the traffic jam left surprising and shocking images, such as the one you can see below. Although this traffic jam did not surpass the monumental traffic jam of 2010, it did demonstrate the magnitude of the challenge facing traffic engineering in China.

                                                                                         Traffic jam at the toll booth in the direction of Beijing.

Due to heavy traffic jams, regular congestion and high pollution in some of the country’s major cities, planners decided to implement vehicle restriction measures. In 2021, 70% of the capital’s air pollution was caused by traffic.

Many major cities have had vehicle restrictions in place for years, both in central areas and in much of the metropolitan areas. These restrictions have been implemented through policies that restrict the access of certain vehicles to urban centers. Another of the most relevant policies is the issuance of a limited number of license plates each month, auctioning those available.

In addition, the use of electric vehicles has been encouraged. The ease of registration of these vehicles followed by free parking spaces, subsidies to manufacturers and the offer of recharging points have facilitated the transition to this type of vehicle for users.

Urban mobility in the Asian giant plays an important role in the field of traffic engineering. It is predicted that in 6 years 70% of the population will be living in cities. In addition, there are very worrying figures, such as the fact that approximately 500 people die every day in traffic accidents. Restrictions on vehicle registration have not been sufficient to reduce the negative externalities of private vehicle use.

Therefore, current transport planning is committed to mobility based on new technologies, connected and autonomous. This approach seeks transportation efficiency in addition to pollution reduction and improvements in road safety. China is meeting these challenges with innovative solutions based on new technologies.

About Vectio

At Vectio we are focused on the effective planning of sustainable mobility, we are experts in this field. Throughout our ten years of life we have always maintained an innovative vocation, betting on the technological means most demanded by our customers. We have the firm conviction that, after more than 500 successful projects, what differentiates us from any other company in the sector is the use of the best technology for the capture and analysis of traffic and mobility.

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