Beijing Traffic

The Associated Press reported this week that Americans in 2010 burnt an average of 8.2 million barrels—that’s 344 million gallons—of gasoline per day. That sounds like a lot, but it’s actually 8 percent less than the peak in 2006. Even as more cars clog U.S. roads in the coming decades, more efficient auto technologies like hybrids, electric cars and high-mpg gas cars mean that by 2030 fuel consumption will be down 20 percent compared to today.

Before you breath a sigh of relief for global warming, consider what’s happening in China. The New York Times today reports that the rapid rise of personal automobiles in Beijing is leaving that city in perpetual gridlock. A few facts:

  • Two-thousand new cars join Beijing streets every day. That’s more than 700,000 new vehicles this year—up from 550,000 new vehicles last year, and 376,000 the year before that.
  • The pace continues to accelerate. The website said Beijingers bought 95,100 vehicles in November, a record and a third more than the previous month.
  • In a June survey, I.B.M. rated Beijing as tied with the Mexico City as the worst traffic in the world.
  • The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers reports that car purchases throughout China were up 34 percent compared to 2009—which was up 46 percent from 2008.

Rush hour traffic in Beijing dropped nearly 4 percent in one year, to a current average of 15 miles an hour. By 2015, the rate of cars during rush hour traffic is expected to drop to 9 miles an hour—roughly the speed of bicycles, the obviously much greener form of transportation that Chinese consumers have abandoned in favor of private automobiles.