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'Car-free' Day on September 22 for 108 Cities
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At least for one day this month people, rather than cars, will dominate the streets.

For the first time, a national urban public transportation week will be held from September 16-22 nationwide.

The Ministry of Construction proposed such an event last year, and 108 cities have now agreed to take part.

With the theme "green transportation and health," various events will be held to enhance public awareness of the benefits of public transportation.

The event will culminate with a "car-free" day on September 22, from 7 am to 7 pm. Some cities will ban cars on certain roads, while others on all roads.

Local municipal officials will spearhead the activities to encourage residents to make more use of public transportation.

Local environment watchdogs will monitor air quality indices during the week to see to what affect it has on the reduction of pollution.

"The once kingdom of bicycle is losing its appeal," Qiu Baoxing, vice-minister of construction, said at a meeting to present representatives from the 108 cities.

"Fast urbanization, the concentration of people in certain areas, and an increase in the number of cars has seen bicycles lanes being reduced or completely eliminated," he said. "The event is not only a move to cut vehicle emissions but also a test of the capabilities of local governments to encourage more people to participate in such programs."

Qiu said the car-free day is expected to save 33 million liters of petrol and reduce about 3,000 tons of harmful gases.

"Public awareness raising activities are good for sustainable development," Magnus Gislev, in charge of environmental affairs of the delegation of the European Commission to China, said.

By June this year, the country had registered more than 53 million vehicles, more than 60 percent were for private use, Qiu said.

And the number of private cars continues to increase by about 20 percent each year, much faster than the economic growth.

"Our huge population and limited land resources means we cannot meet urban traffic demands by building more roads," Qiu said.

"We need a strict policy on land use and adopt an urban transport strategy led by more use of public transportation."

Increasing traffic congestion and air pollution has led many cities in China to impose more restrictive policies on vehicle-ownership.

Shanghai has been implementing an auction policy for the registration of license plate numbers, Shenzhen increased parking fees last year and Beijing has just concluded a four-day trial to limit the number of private cars on the roads in preparation for the Olympic Games.

(China Daily September 1, 2007)

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