August 22, 2007 in Nation/World

In test for Olympics, Beijing limits private cars

Christopher Bodeen Associated Press
 

BEIJING – Despite a persistent gray haze, officials said Tuesday an exercise that removed more than 1 million private vehicles a day from Beijing’s gridlocked streets was a success that could mean a clearer sky during next summer’s Olympics.

Humidity and wind conditions kept the pollution from dispersing, but the air during the four-day drill would have been much worse without the vehicle restrictions, said Du Shaozhong, deputy director of the Chinese capital’s Environmental Protection Bureau.

“The test was successful. These four days the wind speed was slow, while the humidity and temperature were high,” Du told reporters, noting that a gray sky doesn’t necessarily mean pollution is bad.

Air pollution has emerged as a key problem for Beijing as it gears up for the Olympics, to be held Aug. 8-24, 2008. Jammed traffic and the possibility of political protests by critics of the communist regime are also concerns.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge warned during a visit this month that the competition schedule might have to be juggled on days when pollution was particularly bad.

The government’s own statistics showed that the air quality during the test rated among the top 10 worst days of the month so far – and slightly worse that the same period a year ago.

The traffic ban removed 1.3 million private vehicles from the capital’s perpetually gridlocked streets each day. Additional buses and subways were added as residents turned to public transportation, car pools and taxis.

Cars with even-numbered license plates were ordered off roads Friday and Sunday, and vehicles with odd-numbered plates were banned Saturday and Monday. Emergency vehicles, taxis, buses and other public-service vehicles were exempt.

Organizers of the Beijing games have not said exactly what they will do to reduce traffic and emissions during the 2008 Olympics, but they are expected to employ something similar to the scheme just tested. Vehicle restrictions are expected to be more elaborate, with special bus lanes to be set up for athletes and officials.

Beijing had an air pollution index of between 93 and 95 during the test days, the Environmental Protection Bureau said on its Web site. According to the State Environmental Protection Agency, an index below 100 indicates excellent or good conditions.

“As the air quality during these four days reached the national standard, it was fit for all activities, including sports,” Du said.

The index hit 116 Tuesday after the test and was 115 on Aug. 16 – the day before the trial began, the Chinese statistics showed.

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