Monday, 20 August 2007

Beijing: Measurements to improve the air and traffic

'9 million bicycles in Beijing' a beautiful song by Katie Melua gives a false impression. There are more cars than bikes around nowadays, according to what I see in the city center. Beijing faces 1,000 newly registered cars every single day and reached 3 million registered automobiles this May.

Today was the last day of Beijing's second four-day experiment to test whether 'pulling 1.3 million cars off the roads each day would prove effective in reducing air pollution during the Olympic Games in August 2008'.

Drivers with even-numbered license plates, excluding taxis, buses and emergency vehicles, were told to stay off the roads on Friday and Sunday - or face a fine of 100 RMB (10 Euro). Odd-numbered cars were banned on Saturday and Monday. Switching time was 6am.

From what I saw, Beijingers respected the rules. Saturday morning my husband and I rode a bike to Houhai lake with our son. It was the first time in two years that I dared to ride that short distance of about 3 km from our house. The crossing of the second ring road was absolutely no problem. There were definitely less cars on the road. Although the air did not seem cleaner, but 34 degrees Celsius do not make the air feel fresh anyway.

When a car was necessary this weekend and this morning for work, we shared cars with friends. So we contributed to the test.

Other measurements took place at night. Dongzhimenwai Dajie, all six lanes, was totally flooded around midnight on Saturday. It was not only sprayed wet by these cleaning trucks to ground the dust, it was flooded. I don't know why only this road and what kind of test this has been. Not to mention the water shortage situation.

Today I read in China Daily, the Olympic city plans to put 50,000 bicycles for rent across the city ahead of the Games 'to curb pollution and ease congestion'. Brand new bikes will be available at 230 outlets close to subway stations, Olympic venues and hotels according to a "rent a bike" program carried out by Beijing Bicycle Rental Services, a Beijing-based company. The daily rent will be around 20 RMB (2 Euro).

I also read last week that several national daily flights will be cancelled soon. But the explanation was for safety reasons. I think this might contribute as well for better air.

Further more the government plans to have finished all ongoing constructions (there are no new construction activities allowed in the city until September 2008), to stop earth moving activities and shut down polluting industries for the time of the Olympics.

The weather in Beijing will be controlled by the 'Weather Modification Department'. They will launch rockets into the clouds containing silver iodide ('cloud seeding') to make them rain before the opening ceremony. This kills two birds with one stone: no wet opening ceremony and better air quality. The rain clears out air pollution and washes away the dust from the streets and trees.

Photo Reuters, China Daily

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