Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Unintended-Consequence Hell!

Dalian traffic is a nightmare. The city grew from a patchwork of little villages snuggling up against hills and mini-mountains and surrounded by an irregular coastline, so there's nothing remotely resembling a street grid. Indeed, the map more closely resembles a bowl of spaghetti thrown up in the air and allowed to fall to the ground as dictated by chance.

However, up to now I've been able to avoid too much gnarly traffic as long as I refused to drive at rush hour. It's a nuisance when I have 8AM classes, but if I leave home at 5:30 and drive home between 10AM and 3 PM, all has been well. This semester has been a breeze so far, because almost all my classes are between 3:40 and 8:30 PM. It's not fun working that late, but at least I never had to deal with bad traffic.

Until today, when traffic was an absolute war zone even in the heart of what is normally smooth sailing. We left home this morning at 9:00, and I didn't make it to campus until 10:30. Coming home again at 2:45, it took a bit more than an hour. (Should've been 45 minutes, tops.) And the time delays tell only part of the story: that's an hour of constant stress and near-misses, as opposed to a leisurely 45 minutes.

I was scratching my head trying to figure out what was going on. There weren't any accidents anywhere along the route, nor is there any big event going on in town. (At least not that I know of. Government conferences aren't always publicized in this country.)

Then finally, Ma Lei figured it out: I was stuck in two hours of unintended-consequence hell.

You see, the local government recently decided to "solve" the traffic problem on one of the main highways into town by instituting alternate-day driving: on even-numbered days, people whose license plates end in odd numbers will get an expensive ticket if they drive on the freeway. Vice versa, on odd days.

Once she mentioned that, I looked around at the morass I was stuck in the middle of. And sure enough, every license plate I saw ended in an even number (today's date being March 25).

So thanks a lot, Dalian City Government! You sure did a wonderful job on that traffic problem.

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