Parking a Car in Beijing, China, is a Nightmare

Beijing Travel Report Center of Road Parking

Parking in the Center of a City Street in Beijing

If you’re riding a bicycle in Beijing, China, that statement does not apply to you. If, however, you are insane enough to rent your own car and attempt to drive it, you better pay attention to that title. You will also find that the problem of finding places to park is a problem for your taxi and tour drivers as well.

In all major cities, parking your car is usually a problem. Population density, plus the number of automobiles, leads to the natural result of too much car and too little parking space. Until recently, that was not the problem in Chinese cities.

Due to the extreme number its population possessed, China was known as the land of the bicycle.  Vast hordes of bikes carried people and goods throughout the cities.  That was, until the 1990s came along.

With the explosion of the economy in China in the 1990s and 2000s, the Chinese middle class in Beijing and other major cities is growing like crazy.  The number of cars purchased by that growing middle class in major Chinese cities has increased several fold. Combine this with the need for the Chinese to continue to support the large bike lanes for the common man who does not yet have a car. This makes for a very interesting traffic situation.

Beijing Travel Report Car-Bus-Bicycle Capacity VS. Space Occupied Comparison

Car-Bus-Bicycle Capacity VS. Vehicle Road Space Occupied Comparison, Same Number of People Carried by Each Means of Transport. My Goodness, look how much room is taken up by cars vs bicycles. - Credit: Press-Office City of Munster, Germany

The flow of traffic is impaired by the fact that a person driving a car takes up more highway space than a person riding a bicycle.  Parking has the same issue since the person that once parked a bike in his apartment is now trying to find space on the roadway to park that much larger car.  In fact, Beijing is now the 3rd worst parking city on the IBM global parking survey as summarized by Tyler Falk.

Much like Europe, any space that is found on or near the road or street is fair game. What expressed this to me the most was the line of cars parked down the center of the street. Every time I show someone that photo, they asked me why people are driving in the middle of the street. That is when, with a chuckle, I explain to them that the cars are actually parked.  No way would I stand in the middle of moving traffic to take that photo.

If you do rent a car or taxi, realize that there is no parking space around most of the major tourist attractions. Generally, what a tour company will do is have the driver of your car or bus drop you at the location. Then the driver will go away in attempt to find some place to “hover” for a while. When you are ready to be picked up, your guide will call the driver to come back.

I really, really have to warn you to NOT RENT a car.  The time you would waste attempting to find parking would be horrendous.   That would only apply, though, if you actually survive the massive “merging” of autos that goes on during a traffic jam while getting to your tourist site.

Chinese taxis seem to have this “merging without getting hit” down to an art.  I seriously do not understand why their cars are not covered in dents, but they are not.  This is very unlike Rome where the taxi drivers seem to have Red Bull for blood and drive like maniacs.  No, the Chinese drivers have a calm demeanor while participating in a type of driving I call “cooperative chaos”.

If you have a private driver or hire a taxi for the day, realize that they will park anywhere they can fit that car.  Do not be surprised when they pull into a tiny spot between a wall and a tree. Just be thankful that they leave you enough room to open the door and get out.

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2 thoughts on “Parking a Car in Beijing, China, is a Nightmare

  1. Interesting article about the car parking problem in Beijing. Are there any tolls leading to the city? I know NYC attempted to raise tolls into the city by a fairly large amount though given the small size of the island of Manhattan it didn’t appear to do very much. I suppose it’s something we are going to live with provided with have cities with millions of people and millions of others that visit.

  2. There are some tolls on different segments of the ring system, the series of encircling freeways. They are laid out like an onion slice, each ring inside another.

    I have heard of some discussion about instituting a pass system for everything inside Ring 4 or 5, to discourage private cars from coming inside the central area. This would look much like the system as implemented inside London’s City Center. Who knows if or when that would happen.

    Anywhoo… It should not stop people from visiting Beijing and seeing its history. Just sit back and let the taxis do their job. They know it well and don’t take you “the long way round” if they don’t have to.

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