Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I HEART Line 4

I've just started a new job that requires me to take the Line 4 subway, the most recently opened of Beijing's new subway routes. This line renders what would in the past have been a vexingly long and inconvenient journey (crowded bus ride bookended by long walks or crawlingly-slow rush-hour taxi) into a surprisingly pleasant 40-minute commute.

Unlike most of the capital's other subway lines, this one isn't (yet....) hideously overcrowded. (Almost-as-new Line 5 is already becoming almost unusable, even outside of the rush hour; while the venerable Line 1 is unusable these days, I find.)

Unlike the other new lines, the interchanges are mostly quite straightforward. (Well, Line 2 to Line 4 at Xizhimen is a doddle; going the other way is a bit of a hike - why can't they put both interchange stairways in the middle of the platform rather than requiring you to walk all around the houses, to climb up above the [higher!] Line 2 platform and then come back down to it?? Even so, it's a dream compared to some of the ridiculous Line 5 interchanges: the one at Chongwenmen takes nearly 10 minutes! As, of course, does the interchange from Line 2 to Line 13 at Xizhimen or Dongzhimen, which just aren't connected systems at all: the stations are adjacent but completely separate, and it takes 5-10 minutes to change between them.)

Unlike the other new lines, the trains are actually quite clean and comfortable and sensibly designed: large open areas inside all the doors, rather than just on occasional carriages designated "for wheelchairs"; handrails down the centre of all the carriages, but not across the doors (the ones on Line 5 are a bastard, right at eyebrow height for me: I'm always smacking my forehead on them as I get hustled on to the trains by the crowds behind).

Unlike most of the other lines - old or new - the stations (well, at least the ones I've used so far) are clean and airy, well laid-out and reasonably well signposted. (Again, Line 5 is a nightmare of cretinous design: most of the stations in the centre of the city are hidden away inside malls, difficult to find, difficult to get out of; the walk from platform to street level at Zhangzizhonglu, for example [at least it's not in a mall], takes a good 4 or 5 minutes [not helped by the ridiculously slippery floor tiles!!].)

Unlike most of the other lines (especially Line 13 and Line 1), the trains seem to run reliably on time, and at a good frequency throughout the day. (The 8-minute wait for trains on Line 13 outside of the rush hour can be a right pain-in-the-arse. Even the 3 or 4-minute wait on Line 1 can be a pain when its trains are such comparatively low capacity [they're still running some that aren't even the full length of the platforms??] and the other five lines now feeding into it are all running at a slightly higher frequency.)

And unlike most of the other lines, Line 4 goes through a bunch of places that people might actually want to go to. Unlike the arrow-straight north-south Line 5, Line 4 snakes westward a couple of times to take in some more useful destinations: thus it covers the new Beijing South Railway Station, the Xidan shopping district, Ping'an (just west of Beihai Park), the Beijing Zoo, the National Library, the IT zone (and bookstore mecca) around Zhongguancun, Renmin University, Peking University (not too far from the D-22 and 13 Club rock music bars), and the Old Summer Palace. Line 5 is good for commuters into the CBD between Dongsi and Dongdan, and has a stop at the Temple of Heaven, but that's about it. Line 10 (hastily completed before the Olympics to link the luxury hotels on the east side of town to the sports venues on the north side) might be moderately useful if it weren't so isolated from the rest of the network; it seems tantalisingly close to me, but I need to go five or six stops and make TWO changes (one of them rather irksomely long and poorly signed) in order to get on it - it's almost quicker for me to walk all the way to the nearest station. Line 1 ferries commuters in from the distant eastern and western suburbs, but is f***-all use for anything else, and now operating way beyond capacity.

Line 4, though..... my god, Line 4 is actually a pleasant travelling experience. And really useful.

This is probably only because some people haven't realised it's there yet. I'm sure that, before much longer, it will start becoming quite as oppressively overcrowded as the rest of the network. Yep, alas, its passenger traffic will probably double the next time there's a hike in fuel prices or parking fees.

Enjoy the honeymoon while it lasts.


JES said...

In the split-second before I opened this post, I thought for sure it was going to be about a poem. And I know you take poetry seriously, so I thought What a bizarrely cute way for Froog, of all people, to announce that he favors a particular line over the others. And then I decided the title had to be a put-on. A blog post title from a Christopher Guest film about writing workshops or something.

And then I clicked on the link.

I HEART the human mind sometimes.

Froog said...

You read too much into me, JES. Or you write too much into me.