Beijingers suggest ways to un-jam city

By Todd Balazovic and Han Bingbin (China Daily)

2010-12-21 14:26

As local government calls for input, residents share ideas to cut congestion

With the public feedback period for the recently released draft plan to deal with the capital's congestion ending on Sunday, Beijingers are offering up their suggestions for how the city can put the brakes on its traffic problem.

The draft plan, which was opened for public comment from Dec 13 to 19, outlined several measures, including traffic controls according to the last number of a car's license plate and more special lanes designated for public trasport, as well as prohibiting new government vehicles for the coming five years.

While many members of the public say they are glad someone is trying to do something, few of those contacted by METRO thought the draft plan would be enough to untie Beijing's traffic knots.

For Morten Holm, design director at the architecture and urban planning firm Archiland, the changes are a good start, but he says Beijing will have to make much bigger efforts if it wants serious change.

"You can increase traffic fines, you can decrease the number of plates issued, but first you have to change the culture of driving in Beijing. All these measures you can endorse, but it's trying to repair the system not change it," the Danish designer said.

He suggested that public figures could show the way by abandoning their black government cars and climbing onto bicycles, like many politicians, including the Danish ambassador to China, have done in the past.

Changing the perception that driving is a sign of status and creating bike paths through some of the capital's scenic canal areas would also encourage people to abandon the steering wheel and grab the handlebars.

"Beijing needs to start to move away from the car and start to introduce a culture of movement that makes it more high-end to move your body, to make not driving much more enjoyable," he said.

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Public transport key to better traffic

While the battle may seem uphill, Beijing's netizens have wracked their brains to come up with creative solutions to the capital's gridlock on the official website of the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport.

One netizen, named Liang Zengqing, suggested that bus and subway stations should set up electronic billboards that show the flow of passengers at different times of the day, so people can plan their trips for less busy times.

Another netizen, using the moniker "retired soldier", suggested creating a shuttle service with a high level of comfort and speed to attract people working at government agencies and get them to abandon their official vehicles.

Another possible solution came from a netizen called "one citizen" who suggested the local government builds a series of car-free tunnels under sidewalks throughout the city, with a height that would allow people transporting large objects to do so underground.

Still, even with a variety of creative solutions available, some think that traffic congestion in a major city like Beijing is just a way of life.

German Filip Klippel, who is working toward his MBA in renewables and environment at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing, said he thinks the congestion measures may help during non-peak hours.

But he said they do not go far enough to combat rush-hour and weekend traffic.

"Even if you had every comprehensive system available to manage the traffic, I think it will only help a little bit," he said. "I don't know if it will cure it, especially during rush hour."

Klippel, who shares a car with his girlfriend, said he thinks limiting the amount of new government cars does not go far enough to combat the fact that regular citizens are still buying so many vehicles.

"Ordinary people are still adding a lot of new cars to the street every day," he said. "I think this is the main problem - people just want to have cars."

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