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October 13th, 2008:

Beijing’s New Traffic Rules Fail To Curb Gridlock, Pollution

Agence France-Presse in Beijing – SCMP – Updated on Oct 13, 2008

Beijing rolled out new traffic control measures on Monday, but they had little effect as the capital’s roads remained clogged and a grey smog shrouded the city.

The new measures, which are less strict than curbs used during the Beijing Olympics in August, are aimed at banning the city’s 3.3 million cars from the road for one day a week each, based on license plate numbers.

But Beijing Television’s morning traffic programme showed the capital’s streets jammed up as usual, while small accidents around the city ensured gridlock on many roads.

As Monday was the first day of the new system, police were not levying the 100 yuan (US$13) fine for drivers violating the ban. The fines will begin next week, local media said.

According to the system, license plates ending with one or six will be banned from the roads on Monday, plates ending with two and seven on Tuesday, three and eight on Wednesday and so on.

The rules, which only apply from 6am until 9pm and do not include weekends, are also supposed to curb air pollution, but Beijing’s normally grey, smoggy sky was on full display on Monday.

Despite the gridlock during the morning rush hour, officials insisted the new rules had improved traffic flow.

“Normally the traffic here moves at between 15 and 20 kilometres per hour [nine to 12 miles an hour], today it has been moving as fast as 40 kilometres an hour,” a policeman on one of Beijing’s ring roads told state television.

Beijing’s air is among the most polluted in the world, and the problem is getting worse with about 1,000 new private automobiles bought each day by increasingly affluent city residents.

The tighter Olympic restrictions, which expired on September 20, had limited private motorists to driving on alternate days, removing more than a million vehicles from the streets each day.

The measures led to unusually blue skies. Authorities said atmospheric data showed Beijing enjoyed its best air quality in a decade thanks to the measures.

Pollution Stains Image

SCMP – Updated on Oct 13, 2008

I have just returned from San Francisco and again can’t get over the difference in air quality.

When I say I’m from Hong Kong, the terrible air quality is almost always mentioned and the fact that the government seems to be in a state of denial over the problem.

People do not even want to go on holiday here so how about us poor residents? So much is being said and done about the tainted milk powder; while that is certainly awful, a lot more of our children are going to have terrible long-term health problems due to the air pollution.

Admittedly, some of the problem has to do with the mainland, but at least the Hong Kong government could immediately put a ban on all idling engines in Hong Kong and cross-border trucks and coaches.

Suzanne Chung, Mong Kok