The construction of high-speed expressways has greatly accelerated
One can certainly claim proudly that the new highways epitomize China's
rapid economic development.
However, advanced-looking infrastructure does not necessarily mean
advanced development, which also comprises good management. Management of
highways in China is regretfully poor.
I recently experienced such a mixed feeling.
Last week, I went to Wuhan in Central China's Hubei Province. Driving
along the Beijing-Zhuhai expressway. I also saw many signs showing
connections with newly built expressways leading to eastern and western
The expressways were impressive and showed a high degree of
modernization, in terms of construction quality and facilities for traffic
control and communications.
And the lush vegetation flanking the highways provided a pleasant
diversion from the boredom of driving. In addition, the old inter-province
highways were also improved to a point approaching the standard of
"quasi-expressway". Even the dirt roads in rural counties were now coated
with asphalt or cement.
The improvement dramatically reduced travel time. Take the route from
Wuhan to Zhangbang where I lived for 10 years during the 1970s. The
170-kilometer course was an 11-hour bus drive at that time. But it took me
only a little more than two hours last week to drive from the Central
China geographic hub to this mountainous township.
The highways, however, also caused some frustration. There were many
defects ambiguous road signs, slack traffic control and excessive tolling.
Problems with signs are the easiest to solve but the least thought of by
The signs were usually confusing, especially at the entrances and
exits. When I tried to get on the expressway leading to a destination
southeast of Wuhan across the Yangtze River, I missed the entrance because
there was no sign showing that it was the Mid-Ring Road I was to take.
I looked for the sign for "Baishazhou", which I was told was the bridge
where the expressway crosses the Yangtze, but could not find it. The sign
showing the direction of southeast reads "Luoshi Road" the next overpass
rather than "Baishazhou Bridge". Although I was a Wuhan native in
childhood, I don't know Luoshi Road.
On Monday, I left Wuhan for Beijing. After passing the entrance to the
Beijing-Zhuhai Expressway, I came to a junction of fork roads marked by
two signs. One reads "Xianning" and the other "Xiaogan" two cities in the
south and north respectively. I took the second one, because I knew
Xiaogan was northward. But I wondered what a non-native would do if he or
she did not know where the two cities are located relative to Wuhan.
Why doesn't the road authorities simply mark the signs with "north" and
"south"? Most expressway users know which direction they will take but do
not necessarily know the name of the nearest city.
Marking the directions of highways with the names of the nearest
neighboring exits seems to be a common practice of road managers
I think this is stupid. One has to study and remember the names of the
next exit or overpass, as with Beijing's ring roads to know the right
direction one is going.
Road signs should be clear and easy to read. They should even be
foolproof in many cases.
To ensure such convenience for road users is neither difficult nor
costly. The key to the problem is whether the authorities really practice
their often-chanted slogan: "Serve the public whole-heartily".
(China Daily 05/09/2007 page10)