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Beijing's Car-Free Day Gets Mixed Reception

Could you cope without a car for a day? That was the question posed yesterday when one of the country's non-governmental organizations (NGOs) called on people to cycle, walk, and use public transportation in honor of World Car-Free Day (WCFD).


"We distributed more than 1,500 posters around Beijing," said Song Xi, program co-ordinator for Global Village of Beijing, an NGO dedicated to the promotion of sustainable development and an environmentally friendly lifestyle.


Besides putting up posters, the environmental protection group organized cycling tours of Beijing last weekend that were attended by more than 400 volunteers, most of them university students.


"With no feedback from the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau, it is hard to say whether there are fewer cars on the roads," Song said. "However, some people did call our office to say they would not start their engines today."


Statistics show that at least nine cities across China were observing WCFD, including Shanghai, Shenzhen and Taipei.


On September 17, in Shanghai, around 500 bicycles started a city tour from Shanghai Stadium in an effort to promote the event.


Zhang Peng, a BP employee in Beijing who drives more than 30 kilometers every day between his home and office, was one supporter of the event. "It is the first time I have been to work by bus, and it is almost as convenient as driving," he said.


"I will be using public transport more often and invite my colleagues to join the movement."


However, others said a car-free day would not change anything.


"Could we make any difference by not driving just for one day? What we really need is smoother roads and better traffic management, 365 days a year, instead of a day without cars," said Huang Tao, who drives a Volkswagen Passat with a 1.8-litre engine.


World Car-Free Day was started by former French Environment Minister Dominique Voynet on September 22, 1998, as a way of raising awareness of the impact cars have on the environment and people's lifestyles. Today, it is marked by hundreds of cities around the world, particularly in Europe and North America.


Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, first introduced the event in 2000, but it was not repeated.


(China Daily September 23, 2005)

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