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Traffic bans a quick fix
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The new vehicle restrictions that the Beijing municipal committee of communications announced on Sunday will continue to help improve the Chinese capital's traffic flow and air quality.

The Beijing government's resolution to lead major domestic cities in promoting environmentally friendly driving is a laudable move.

However, it is also important to point out that the current solution amounts to nothing but a minimal response to the city's growing traffic and environmental problems.

If Beijing is to effectively address chronic traffic jams and environmental degradation, the municipal government must seek maximum public support to introduce more and smarter urban-planning policies to make the city greener and more livable.

Starting next Monday, Beijing will extend its post-Olympic vehicle restrictions another year.

The new restrictions, still based on license plate numbers, will take one fifth of the city's 3.6 million vehicles off roads each weekday.

Private cars with certain number plates will be banned within, but not on, the Fifth Ring Road from 7 am to 8 pm on alternate days.

Previously they were also banned from driving on and within the Fifth Ring Road from 6 am to 9 pm.

There are ample reasons to support vehicle restrictions. Figures released by the Beijing Transportation Research Center (BTRC) last Thursday showed that traffic jams were reduced by five hours and 15 minutes a day during the six months after the Olympics were introduced.

Vehicular emissions were reduced by 375 tons, or 10 percent, every day.

A substantial increase in the number of blue skies this spring also owes to Beijing's environmental protection measures, including the car ban.

BTRC statistics also showed about 90 percent of city residents said they supported the restrictions and 89 percent said they were willing to see the rules extended.

Nevertheless, in spite of these favorable results, officials have unfortunately failed to win a consensus among city residents by encouraging thorough and informed public debate on the necessity and means to improve traffic conditions and enhance environmental protection.

The hurried release of new restrictions just days after the publication of an official assessment of the previous rules has obviously left no time for serious public debate on the issue.

Though most of the new measures are environmentally necessary, they may be neither as popular as policymakers believe nor sufficient in the long run.

Without voluntary compliance by drivers, the new rules might prove hard to enforce efficiently.

Worse, in the absence of the public's understanding and support, it will likely become more difficult for the local government to introduce necessary or ambitious green policies in future.

(China Daily April 7, 2009)

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