Beijing Traffic Jam Opens Room for Debate at New York Times

The 60-mile traffic jam on a expressway north of Beijing went viral on Internet news, and prompted the The New York Times to devote its web feature “Room for Debate” to the topic. I was asked to contribute (ironically writing from Chongqing, China). While the massive traffic jam is unlikely to repeat itself, even in Beijing, the incident still has lessons for U.S. cities and is a stark reminder for the need of keeping our transportation infrastructure up to snuff. Among other points, I note:

“A traffic jam of this sort is unlikely to appear in the U.S. Our road network has built-in redundancy that gives it a resilience that this stretch of highway in Beijing (and much of China) simply doesn’t have. To avoid future traffic jams, the Chinese will have to build a true network of roads that allow drivers to find alternatives quickly and easily. Fortunately, many Chinese cities, Beijing proper included, have the core elements of this network: several ring roads plus local roads planned on a grid. The stretch of highway with the blocked traffic, however, didn’t benefit from this spiderweb-like mesh of roads.”

This is also a theme of our book Mobility First: A New Vision for Transportation in a Globally Competitive 21st Century, which also includes numerous references to transportation policy in China.

Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.