Jinan, capital of east China's Shandong Province, has started using a "zipper truck" this week which can redesignate traffic lanes during rush hours to ease congestion.
The orange-and-white truck, refitted by Qianjin Machinery Factory in north China's Hebei Province, automatically moves a median barrier on Lyuyou Road at a speed of eight kilometers per hour.
According to the driver, the equipment on the vehicle's front-left lifts the barrier segments off the road, and an S-shaped conveyer channel inside the vehicle can transport them to the other side.
Lyuyou Road is generally configured with three westbound lanes and three eastbound ones. In half an hour, according to the time of day the road is converted to a 4-2 formation.
The lanes will be realigned between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays.
"The additional lane is most helpful during evening rush hours," said Wang Wenhu, head of infrastructure construction with Jinan traffic police.
The median barriers, essentially a chain of linked barriers, were specially made for the truck. Each weighs more than 50 kilograms. Every 20 or 30 are linked together.
"Traffic is usually heavy in one direction and light in the other during rush hours. The zipper trucks on Golden Gate Bridge made us green with envy," said Zhang Weimin, a Jinan-based driver.
"Now, we have our own road zipper, the traffic congestion is much reduced," Zhang said.
Many cities like Jinan have traffic congestion problems. The number of cars in China has grown astronomically since the turn of the century.
Wang said the zipper truck and lanes provide a new method for cities to increase road capacity and ease traffic.
"Jinan traffic police will assess the effectiveness of zipper truck and they pass muster, there will be zipper lanes on more major roads," he said.
In many cities like Beijing, Nanjing and Changsha, the idea of relocating traffic lanes during commute periods is not new. But traditionally, the traffic lanes were usually relocated manually, which was laborious and time-consuming.
"Workers needed hours per kilometer to move the traffic barriers, which will definitely affected the flow of traffic," said Wang Le, an official with Shenzhen traffic authority.
Inspired by the zipper trucks on Golden Gate Bridge, south China's Shenzhen City put a similar vehicle on the road in October at a cost of 1.7 million yuan (around 250,000 U.S. dollars).
Wu Sikang, director of development research with Shenzhen municipal people's government, pointed out that managing larger cities with limited manpower was next to impossible.
"We must rely on technology and come up with new management methods," Wu said.