Family’s petition ordeal goes on after home regularly hit by cars due to road design flaw

Source:China Youth Daily Published: 2017/5/16 19:03:39

○ A family from Lindian county, Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province has seen a total of 48 traffic accidents on their doorstep over the past year

○ Vehicles from family cars to trucks have lost control on the 90 degree corner in the road which sits next to their home

○ The family has appealed to the government many times but the problem remains unsolved

 

It was a February afternoon and snow was on the ground, speckled with dirt from the road.

Xu Renxiang, 29, had just walked out of her house to go to the nearby grocery store to pick up some stuff for lunch and was thinking about what she needed to buy.

While she was preoccupied with thoughts of carrots and chili powder, a red truck careened into her yard. Xu whipped around when she heard it hit the goose pen.

The 20-ton truck had fallen onto its side and flattened the fence. The truck had pushed the goose pen for a short distance before coming to a stop right in front of her home.

Xu was frozen in shock. After a while, she called her husband He Haijun, holding her phone in shaky hands.

Their house sits on the corner where a highway and a narrow country road meet. When vehicles approach the 90 degree turn, many fail to slow down enough to make the turn safely and crash into their yard or even their home.

"We are famous in town - the house where the car accidents happen a lot," Xu told China Youth Daily.

The house

Xu said there have been hundreds of similar accidents, but no one can say the exact number.

All the houses in the village look the same, apart from theirs. While their home is also white with a blue roof, it lacks a tree or fences - both are car crash victims - and has a huge red sign erected by the government standing next to it, emblazoned with the Chinese character for "slow."

The family has erected barricades to try to keep themselves safe. A barrier of loose bricks and a half meter-high sand dune stretch across their yard and a farm vehicle sits in front of their bedroom window at night.

Their house was first hit in November 2010.

Heavily pregnant Xu and her husband were in bed when they were rudely awakened by a crash and a flood of light. A car had hit the side of their room.

In response, they hung up reflective strips on their fence to make the turn more obvious to drivers late at night. But one night, when they were reattaching the reflective strips, they were almost hit by a minivan.

"The reflectors clearly did not work," Xu told China Youth Daily.

The family have taken hundreds of photos, recording that a total of 48 accidents happening in 2016. Their life sometimes seem to be involved around a series of crashes, which has had an impact on their relationships.

"We almost got divorced because of this car accident," He told China Youth Daily, pointing to a photo of a delivery truck that ran into their yard. The couple had a quarrel after Xu was unable to contact He because his phone was off.

Luckily, no one has ever been injured in any of the accidents and most drivers give them some compensation for the trouble and damage caused.

Their daughter has grown up with a soundtrack of regular crashes in the background, and has never been allowed to play in their yard.

One year, when she wanted to build a snowman, Xu told her that the snow around the house is poisonous so they can't play with it.

They've all developed habits born of necessary caution. Their eyes dart around whenever they leave home, scanning the horizon for oncoming vehicles and in the middle of the summer, they wear shoes instead of sandals in case they need to run out of the path of tons of speeding metal. Even their animals have developed nervous problems, their birds refused to lay eggs after crashes.

Some authorities

The house lies at the point where a narrow country road meets a new 7-meter-wide road that leads to an inter-city highway. The extension project that built the new road was begun in 2007 and completed in 2009.

Cars that speed off the highway often fail to notice they should slow down as they approach the sharp turn onto the country road, especially as the road is poorly-lit. Moreover, in the depths of a freezing northeastern winter, the road is slick with ice.

"The government should have told us earlier that there will be a new road," the couple complained.

A long-disbanded temporary department from the Heilongjiang Provincial Department of Transportation was responsible for the expansion project.

The local government said that they posted public notices when the project was launched, which means the project was built in a "reasonable" way. But the family said they never had a chance to voice their opposition to the project.

The couple has been seeking a government response since the first car accident, from the township authorities all the way up to provincial-level departments. But they have never received any specific feedback.

"The road was designed by the Provincial Design Institute and built for the State Council," township officials said, saying they are unable to do much.

Eventually, they decided to take their grievances to Harbin, the provincial capital. The couple visited the Heilongjiang petition and transportation bureaus, guided by a member of staff at the hotel in which they were staying.

No official directly replied to their petition, every one they met simply told them that "the relevant authorities will take action as soon as possible." But they were never told who the relevant authorities actually are, or what action they will take.

"Officials don't solve problems unless the people knock on their door," He told China Youth Daily.

The couple then started to collect evidence, photographing every crash in the hope that this would persuade the government to take action.

Gradually, there were additions to the area around the house after their campaign, such as a huge "slow" sign, a security camera and some speed bumps. The couple guessed that this might be the response of the "relevant authorities."

But the family says the only thing that will stop the crashes is if the road is redesigned, the sharp right-angle turn smoothed out into a gentler bend. But the construction of a gas station in 2016 next to their house, in the path any bend would have to take, ended this hope.

As the road layout is unlikely to change, they have sought other solutions. They have asked the local government to give them a house in a safer location. Knowing all too well the stories about families that didn't get compensation when their houses were demolished as they were too "greedy," the family says they are being cautious in their demands.

Even so, officials say their demands are excessive. In their petition they have given two choices to the local government - either a new home or a million yuan ($145,110) in compensation.

"A million yuan is not a small number for a rural town," a local official told the couple.

"The amount of money is a random number I thought of off the top of my head," Xu told China Youth Daily. "As long as we can negotiate, the number is changeable."

The only solution the local government has offered is that they will verify how the area is being affected by accidents by inviting specialists from the transportation department, without elaborating why and how.

Life continues

The family says that they once counted how many cars pass their house in a day. They said that from 6 am to 6 pm, 6,000 cars whizzed past their front door.

All kinds of vehicles were among those 6,000 - trucks loaded with sand, vans loaded with construction material and new cars stuffed with three generations of the same family. The country road has become a popular shortcut for people traveling from city to city as it is toll-free and has no load limits.

More and more villagers, too, have bought cars in their village over the years, and more roads have been built in the area. The road in front of their house was nothing more than mud when Xu was little.

"We all know that new roads are good news. But this road has had a huge impact on our family." Their home has held the family's memories, from generation to generation. He grew up there, and his parents lived there for years before he was born. Xu moved there around 10 years ago when she married He.

 "I wouldn't like to be away from this area, if we move one day," she told China Youth Daily.

China Youth Daily


Newspaper headline: Hitting home


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