Post-Olympics Beijing: Car Bans Continue

Driving at night, Beijing. Photo by Sonya.

Driving at night, Beijing. Photo by Sonya.

SEOUL — AS IT SWEATS OFF the last of the Summer Olympics fever, Beijing is beginning to shift its environmental policy paradigm. In the cold, smoggy light of morning, the city must now face all that it has become, and re-orient itself with the needs of its citizens.

Last January, I expressed hope that residents of the Chinese capital would take a cue from a planned ban of over a million cars during the Games and dust off their bicycles. While a two-wheeled revolution has yet to take place, the municipality has shown surprising initiative in keeping the skies blue (China Daily via China Digital Times):

Under the new traffic restrictions, 30 percent of government vehicles will be sealed off as of October 1 [...] The remaining 70 percent of government vehicles, as well as all corporate and private cars, will take turns off the roads one out of the five weekdays as of October 11, it said.

The plan is not completely without its flaws. And while many Beijingers were willing to put up with public transport during the Games, the Daily says their patience has now worn thin.

While most people applaud the ban on government and corporate vehicles, the ban on private cars, however, has sparked an outcry from car owners, many of whom complain it is “unfair”.

“I need to take my daughter home from boarding school on Friday night,” said Beijing bank clerk Zhang Min, whose number plate ends with “0″ and will be banned on Friday. “Probably we need to buy another car.”

The restrictions appear to be mostly aimed at easing congestion, with a nod to the effect they will have on air quality. But that’s a start. The city is taking a progressive approach by first cutting municipal traffic, and the kinks will get worked out as people and policies adjust. Auto-owning residents may be loathe to relinquish the wheel for now, but they might change their minds in a couple months when they’re able to drink in a lung-full of oxygen.

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