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Beijing Transportation Guide

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Beijing Transportation Guide

Beijing, as the capital and a municipality of the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a transportation hub, with a sophisticated network of roads, railways and two major railway stations (Beijing Railway Station or the central station and Beijing West Railway Station) and a major airport. Four completed ring roads encircle a city with nine expressways heading out in virtually all compass directions, supplemented by eleven China National Highways.

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One of Beijing's biggest traffic concerns is its ubiquitous traffic jams. Traffic in the city centre is often gridlocked, with rush hour lasting 11 hours a day as of 2006, and smooth traffic only available at night. Topping out areas with frequent traffic jams are the eastern and western 2nd and 3rd Ring Roads, the northern 4th Ring Road, Shangqing Bridge, Jianguo Road, and Xidaokou.

The authorities have attempted several moves to unblock traffic-- with limited success. The police are also in a mood to fine traffic violators. Actual enforcement, however, is spotty. With car ownership soaring, and the authorities not willing to copy Shanghai's method of auctioning license plates to limit road traffic or slapping extra costs, the traffic situation looks serious. With Beijing's relatively large population of Communist Party-connected "VIPs", limited private ownership would prove vastly unpopular. It is ironic that, while the 7th Ring Road is in planning, central Beijing remains a virtual car park during rush hour. Critics point out that Beijing's "ringing" and urban sprawl are major factors in clogged up city traffic. So far, no elevated highways (a la Shanghai or Hong Kong) have been built in Beijing.

Road construction has been maximized, with more new road projects being commenced than ever. Unfortunately, unlike 2003 (which witnessed the opening of the remaining 40% of the 5th Ring Road on time on November 1, 2003), 2004 proved to be a poor year in terms of the Beijing authorities holding their promises on new roads to be opened to general traffic. The Jingcheng Expressway (3rd Ring Road - 4th Ring Road) opened two days behind time (September 30 instead of September 28), and with access to the expressway only on the ring road section heading anticlockwise, and only bound for Chengde, being possible. Meanwhile, the southwestern 6th Ring Road was scheduled to be opened in November 2004, but has been delayed; an inspection of the ring road was concluded in late November, with success, but the road still remains closed as of mid-December 2004. Basic work for the Airport Expressway (2nd Ring Road - 3rd Ring Road) was boasted for completion by December 12, 2004; that, too, was a missed deadline.

One big problem is that public transportation is underdeveloped: the underground system is presently minimal and even buses are jam-packed with people around rush hour. Beijing authorities claim that traffic jams may be a thing of a past come the 2008 Olympics. This is highly doubtful, however, and most Beijing residents expect that the government will merely prohibit nearly all private automobile traffic during the Games. The authorities have introduced several bus lanes where, during rush hour, all vehicles except for public buses must keep clear of the special lanes. Once they are working successfully, however, a different problem emerges with congestion at bus stops -- within bus lanes. As there are no published schedules, order collapses.

Another problem is the driving situation itself. Respect for the law is only settling in slowly. As a result, Beijing drivers may still pull out to overtake in all directions, and some do not bother with the indicator lights. Traffic violations are rife, checked only by the police on duty. Overtaking on the right, a clear violation in nations where driving on the right side of the road is standard, is exerciced with alarming frequency -- even on expressways. Local drivers are inconceivably aggressive; a number of cases of over-irritated drivers resorting to physical violence (road rage) have been reported. Mainland China's rapid economic development also means that the majority of drivers have only recently learned and are unskilled. Driving on Beijing roads is dangerous, especially for beginners.

Roads in Beijing often are in one of the four compass directions (unlike, for example, Tianjin). Additionally, five ring roads (including one partially open), nine expressways, and numerous fast through routes and China National Highways all form an expansive traffic infrastructure around the capital.

Generally speaking, transportation is not a problem in Beijing, with taxis, the underground, and buses readily accessible. Certain parts of the city are congested in the morning and evening rush, especially the central area and the Western district. Lunchtime is the best time to travel as many of Beijing's drivers appear to be off the roads at that time. Taxis are usually easy to find, even in the wee hours of the morning. There can be a problem, however, on rainy days or during extremely cold weather during rush hour. When it snows, it can be very difficult to find a taxi as many drivers are afraid to drive when the roads are slippery.

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