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China to Remain 'Kingdom of Bicycles'

China's Vice Minister of Construction, Qiu Baoxing, has lashed at city authorities for making it harder for cyclists to get around, saying the country should retain its title as the "kingdom of bicycles."

He made the remarks here Wednesday at the first International Conference on China's City Planning and Development, which his ministry, the Chinese Society of Urban Studies, organized.

Qiu noted that the number of motor vehicles on China's roads rose 20 times between 1978 and 2004 and their numbers could increase five fold again by 2020. In 2004 there were 27 million motor vehicles in the country and that number could reach 130 million in 15 years, he said.

The explosion growth of motor vehicles has caused severe traffic jams in major Chinese cities and is posing a grave challenge to the country's energy security and urban development, he said.

Qiu said while some Chinese cities are cutting back on bicycle lanes in order to make more room for cars, some Western cities are beginning to build more of cycling paths.

The Ministry of Construction is firmly opposed to the elimination of bicycle lanes and has ordered cities to restore them, he said.

The large army of bicycles on the streets of Chinese cities amazed the West when China first opened to the outside world in early 1980s. It's estimated that there were 500 million cyclists back then.

The number of cyclists has dropped as rapidly as private car ownership has expanded.

Qiu said worsening traffic jams and air pollution won't lead the government to restrict car ownership but it may discourage driving by charging fees to drive downtown.

Other options include giving priority to the development of public transportation systems and creating more bus lanes, he said.

(Xinhua News Agency June 15, 2006)

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