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A modest proposal to end Beijing traffic woes

时间:2010-12-18 09:48:29  来源:  作者:

 

Thick smog hangs over traffic in central Beijing (Photo: EPA)

Thick smog hangs over traffic in central Beijing (Photo: EPA)

Breaking news. I can report that today I cycled my 1,500th mile in since arriving in Beijing almost two years ago and, miracle of miracles, am still alive (just) to tell the tale.

I don’t like to think how much I’ve ingested in the way of PM2.5s and other particulate matter, but I don’t care because every time I get back into a car in Beijing (usually when I have something too big to put on the bike) I find myself seething with rage.

This once-great city is dying under the legions of absurdly huge 4WDs that have no place on the roads of a modern city, and more blacked-out official Audi saloons than can possibly needed, even for a government as over-sized as China’s.

Ever-sharp internet wits even have re-christened the “capital” as the “number one traffic jam”, punning on the Chinese word for capital – ‘shoudu’.

The figures tell the sorry story. By the end of 2009 Beijing had 4.7m vehicles, an increase of nearly 20 per cent over 2008. New cars are pouring onto the roads at a rate of nearly 2,000 per day with the Beijing Transportation Research Organisation announcing this year car numbers will nearly DOUBLE by 2015.

Realising that a crisis approached, if it hasn’t already arrived, this week Beijing put out its solutions to its traffic problem to public consultation, coming up with six ideas to fix the problem. These are:

1)       reduce the number of people living downtown

2)       construct an underground ring-road tunnel network

3)       speed up subway (Underground) construction and run more trains per minute

4)       increase Beijing’s equivalent of Boris’s Johnson’s bike scheme to 50,000 by 2018

5)       mark out more bus-lanes

6)       increase parking fees, consider reinstating the Olympic traffic restrictions when 50 per cent of cars were banned from the roads on alternate days, and “research” the possibility of a congestion charge

None of which, I’ll confidently predict right now, will make much difference to the actual quality of life here. At very best, such measures will slow the pace at which Beijing grinds to a halt over the next five years, thanks to vested interests in the auto-industry (already howling at these proposals) and a government that doesn’t dare to upset the people.

Yup, you read that right. For all its authoritarianism, China’s government can be remarkably timid when the bulletin boards and chat-rooms fill up with howls of anguish over plans to curtail the citizen’s sovereign right to sit in a traffic jam and get lung cancer.

Already the protests are beginning, much along the predictable lines of protest that were put up in London when Ken Livingstone introduced the congestion fee. Without the Olympics as an excuse the authorities will get cold feet when, on this issue, Beijing needs to get a great deal more autocratic.

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