Tuesday, August 19, 2008

On the Road IN Beijing

We have decided that driving in Beijing is a cross between driving with Jason Bourne and the old movies Rollerball and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World. I am now very glad we CAN NOT rent a car to drive around here.

To cut down on pollution here drivers can only drive on even or odd days depending on their license plate numbers. Even with half the cars on the road, streets are still very crowded with cars, and the number of pedestrians and bikers is phenomenal.

On local streets, things like stoplights, turn signals, and other things warning signs we are used to, seem to be mere suggestions. Drivers honk constantly, but mostly as a warning that they are coming through or a quick "Hey watch out!" as opposed to Americans that just lay on their horns. Local streets are usually narrow with little shoulder room. Bikers and pedestrians share the road equally with cars, not just along the sides as we do.

The main streets however are very different. They are very wide, often 4-6 lanes across, plus a bike/car lane on each side. The main part is like a through street, divided from the bike/car lane with a fence. There are spotsabout every half block to scoot over into that lane so you can get to the businesses along the road. Drivers on the main roads usually obey the stop lights, but lane changing and getting through a crowded light has led to a few moments of eye covering by me with a chuckle from our driver. Bike lanes are at least one full lane wide, and on many roads there are two lanes on the side - one for bikes and one for cars plus the main roads. Driving on highways is not any different from the US though and no bikes either! It is where I feel the safest.

As many buildings as there are here, and as much construction as is going on here, I am struck by how much green there is around everywhere. In the US we cut down and tear out trees when we build almost anything. Here they try to preserve it or they will plant more in its place. On the fences that separate the bike/car lane from the main lanes you often see roses or other types of climbing bushes planted. Exit areas on the highways are not just planted with grass, but with sometimes elaborate shrubbery.

I have said a couple of times before as well, that the architecture around here is pretty cool. Building codes are different, so there are some "risks" in building design. The building we call the Squiggly Building is a 5 star hotel with a big screen TV on the outside of the building. Many buildings have rounded lines in their design as well. I guess, also, because Beijing is earthquake prone, the buildings are not as tall as they wide. This makes the buildings look immense.

We have been lucky to have pretty much the same drivers every day, just different cars. Where I had my eyes covered and was exclaiming "Iyeeeee!" many time the first couple of days, I now sit back and enjoy the ride. Well almost. Today, also, our driver helped us walk/navigate our way across an 8 lane road successfully. It was strange standing in the middle of the road with traffic moving along either side of us, waiting for a break in the cars only to move forward 3-5 feet most of the time.

Yet with all the crazy driving, we have seen very few fender benders or auto/bike and auto/pedestrian accidents. In the US it would most definitely double the number of accidents if people tried to actually drive like that.

Craig and Michelle are out tonight with the Bustos bunch at some party. I am a bit unsettled,but Craig is a big boy now, and Michelle will take care of him I know. They are taking taxis tonight, though. So I will either stay up until they come home or lay in bed dozing while I wait to hear the door open and close.

Zai jian! (Good bye)


1 comment:

hchimene said...

hey...i need to know when to take the car back so you guys can get home. Unless you do not want to come home..LOL

Keep up the great photography work. Lainey, my mom, and I are enjoying it.