Road signs should be made clearer
[ 2007-06-06 17:02 ]

The construction of high-speed expressways has greatly accelerated since 2001.

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 provinces. 

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 authorities.

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 throughout China.

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)


About the author:

刘式南 高级编辑。1968年毕业于武汉华中师范学院(现华中师范大学)英文系。1982年毕业于北京体育学院(现北京体育大学)研究生院体育情报专业。1982年进入中国日报社,先后担任体育记者、时政记者、国际新闻编辑、要闻版责任编辑、发稿部主任、《上海英文星报》总编辑、《中国商业周刊》总编辑等职。现任《中国日报》总编辑助理及专栏作家。1997年获国务院“特殊贡献专家政府津贴”。2000年被中华全国新闻工作者协会授予“全国百佳新闻工作者”称号。2006年获中国新闻奖二等奖(编辑)。

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