The permanent jam?

K. writes and tells me that she imagines someone writing a novel based on this incident and that I will assign it in my Law and Literature class.  Here is the excerpt:

A number of people have written in, or tweeted (and don’t forget to find me in the tweetosphere), to tell me about a traffic jam in China, currently in its ninth day, that seems to be on the verge of evolving, as per Cortazar’s story “The Southern Thruway” (an inspiration for Godard’s Weekend), into some kind of makeshift settlement.

This has struck an enterprising verve in some locals, notes the BBC:

The drivers have complained that locals are over-charging them for food and drink while they are stuck.

Then again, what is the “market price” for selling food and drink to 100 km traffic jams?

Instant noodles have risen to four times their market price in this new Chinese city.  This account, sent to me by Joshua Hedlund, notes that the jam is 62 miles long and offers good photos.


I don't know about a novel, but Julio Cortázar wrote a short story about a situation like this many years ago. Check out "La Autopista del Sur". The entire text is online here.

Kingston Trio, The Man Who never Returned

Well, let me tell you of the story of a man named Charley on a tragic and fateful day.
He put ten cents in his pocket, kissed his wife and family, went to ride on the M. T. A.

Well, did he ever return? No, he never returned and his fate is still unknown. (What a pity! Poor ole Charlie. Shame and scandal. He may ride forever. Just like Paul Revere.)
He may ride forever 'neath the streets of Boston. He's the man who never returned.

Charlie handed in his dime at the Kendall Square Station and he changed for Jamaica Plain.
When he got there the conductor told him, "One more nickel." Charlie couldn't get off of that train.

Absent of effective authority intervention, it takes collective action to desolve a traffice jam, and individual action to prelong it. The cost of organizing collective action goes up expernentially with the size of the jam.

Can somebody take a picture of the front of the jam? That may assist in fixing the problem. Or is there now no way to get there?

"Can somebody take a picture of the front of the jam? That may assist in fixing the problem. Or is there now no way to get there?"

No way to get there? What is it, a one-way street?

Who enters a 61.9-mile traffic jam?

Doctor Who had an episode with a permanent traffic jam...

I was going to post that it's too bad that JG Ballard isn't still with us to turn this into a novel, but someone beat me to it. Would've been a fitting sequel to Concrete Island.

The Dr Who episode on Wikipedia:

I was at the Kazungula crossing between Zambia and Botswana a few months ago ( This is the crossing between four countries, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, and the situation is regularly like this. There are only two ferries capable of moving trucks across the Zambezi and no road. So trucks line up along the road for miles. I was told that the average wait time for a truck to cross was 7 days. Truck drivers sit in their trucks, moving them once or twice a day by a few hundred feet for a week or more.

If nothing else, the price of food there is likely a good proxy for the price on this road in China...

"Has the jam persisted for 9 days, but with constant turnover of cars, with each individual car only spending a few hours jammed? Or are there individual cars that have been in the jam for 9 days?"

Andrew, I wasn't sure myself but I've come across other news articles that say some vehicles have been there for five days. Also, it seems to be mostly shipping trucks, not regular driving folk, and it may have something to do with this route being used by illegal coal miners trying to avoid illegal coal checkpoints. Or something.

Who enters a 61.9-mile traffic jam?

Maybe they thought it was only 61.8 miles?

Journalists seem particularly prone to turning rough estimates into absurdly precise measurements by mindlessly converting units -- "Scientists report the galaxy is 100 light-years (946,073,047,258,080 km) across."

A "100-kilometer" traffic jam is a "60-mile" traffic jam.

In the U.S. the locals would all be charged with price gouging and the road would thus be full of abandoned cars as people left to find food and water.

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