Downpours expose Beijing design flaws

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 August, 2006, 12:00am

City planners blamed after roads flood, leading to gridlock and delayed flights

Sudden heavy downpours paralysed Beijing's road network yesterday, backing up traffic for about 15km in the city's northeast and flooding roads.

Traffic analysts blamed the congestion on Beijing's poor road design and a lack of co-ordination between government agencies.

Heavy rain belted down yesterday morning and the Capital International Airport was inundated with 85mm in two hours.

Traffic along the expressway to the airport was blocked for four hours when pools of water up to 1.5 metres deep formed in sections under bridges, making the roadway impassable.

Cars were also backed up along the expressway's side roads.

Driver Cheng Shuming said it took him 90 minutes, or triple the usual time, to get to the airport yesterday afternoon even after the expressway reopened.

'Even though the expressway was open, there were too many cars blocking the road.'

He said many people were leaving stranded taxis on the roadway and rushing to the terminal on foot in the rain with their luggage to catch their flights.

By 5pm yesterday, more than 300 flights had been delayed, 60 had been cancelled, and 42 had been rerouted to other cities, according to airport authorities.

The airport expressway was not the only main city route affected. Municipal flood-control officials said water had pooled at dozens of intersections around Beijing.

Su Hongfei , a senior engineer at the Beijing Flood Control Headquarters, said the city's drainage system was very limited. 'The sewage systems in [average] residential complexes are usually almost at maximum capacity and when rain comes the systems cannot absorb all the water.'

She said city planners had not adequately factored in rainfall when they designed the road network and the city was vulnerable in emergencies.

Beijing was also hit yesterday by heavy fog which forced the closure of the east sixth ring road for four hours.

There were 156 reports of traffic jams between 8am and 10am.

The director of the Chinese Academy of Urban Planning and Design's transport institute, Zhao Jie , said the authorities were focusing on quantity rather than the quality of the city's road network. 'Core facilities such as airports must have reliable transport, regardless of emergencies,' he said.

Mr Zhao said the city's transport system was vulnerable to emergencies because not enough emphasis had been placed on public transport.

'The subway is a long-term solution, but Beijing also needs to solve its immediate demands or this paralysis will happen again and again.'

Contributors to internet chat rooms were openly critical of the Beijing municipal government. 'The management of Beijing's airport expressway is so disappointing,' a contributor wrote.

'Just a bit of rain and Beijing's main road is paralysed for such a long time.

'Beijing officials should think about how to fulfil their Olympic commitments.'

Another wrote: 'The Beijing government should be held responsible for this. This is not the only year it has rained. If this cannot be solved, I wonder how the Olympics will be organised.'