Posted by: Dexter Roberts on April 22, 2008
From the start I had mixed feelings—day one of the two days set aside for press at the Beijing Auto Show was Sunday. And with interviews with auto execs lined up, I wasn’t going to be able to let my visit slide into the work week, where I felt it really belonged.
Given the relatively distant location of the new venue, the China International Exhibition Center located near the Beijing Airport, I would have to meet my colleague at 8am before heading out to the show. And despite the fact that auto shows can be fun—think lots of concept cars, flash and glitz launches, complete with sleek models, both vehicular and human—I could certainly think of more relaxing ways to spend my ever shrinking weekend. And the crowds I knew would be daunting despite the rain pouring down that morning.
Well, the crowds were daunting (as in previous auto shows I’d attended in Shanghai, I found myself wondering: are these people really all journalists? And who do they all report for? Or as I suspect, do a lot of friends, family, and acquaintances of reporters somehow get passes for press day.) But despite the shoulder-to-shoulder traffic inside the admittedly impressive venue halls, that hardly proved the issue. Instead, it was the painfully, almost disastrously bumper-to-bumper snarled traffic outside, that proved truly challenging. And a drive that might have taken well under an hour instead stretched to twice that, with vehicles virtually frozen in a chaotic, frustrating traffic mess outside the center.
So why care? Could Beijing have as of yet unannounced plans to create new roads and perhaps public transportation to will quickly solve the horrendous traffic snafu I saw Sunday? The short answer is: afraid not. Instead it looks like (and I hate to say this) Beijing has chosen the wrong location for its admittedly impressive new exhibition center. Yes, it’s near the airport, but I’m not sure that matters as most attendees will have to stay in hotels concentrated in the city center anyway. And it is also right in the middle of a relatively densely populated area where many of Beijing’s villa compounds lie. It is also just down the road (and that’s one key road and a not very wide one too, by the way) from the one of the top international schools of Beijing.
The venue itself sits on that same road which is the main traffic artery that gets tens of thousands of local residents from their homes to their offices and work in downtown Beijing. That means every time an exhibition comes to this spanking new facility, a lot of people (foreign residents and mostly wealthy Chinese) are going to have miserable lives.
All in all, I can’t help wondering why the center wasn’t instead placed in a less populated, less busy part of greater Beijing, of which there are many options. And why, for heaven’s sake, is Beijing allowing so many new cars to flood its streets anyway? The widely reported figure is more than 1,000 new cars added every day which is rapidly turning Beijing into a less livable city, for all residents. (Shanghai by contrast has controlled the growth of new vehicles by charging very high prices for new auto license plates.) But then again, I find myself often asking why these days when it comes to decisions made in Beijing. Finally, in case you were wondering, the Olympics Games venues seem to have far better traffic access I am happy to report.