Thursday, September 06, 2007

Chinese Biking: Oh brother where art thou?

China, the largest and most powerful consumer country in the world, is dying to clear up their air. The combination of leaded gas, millions of new vehicles, and lax air pollution limits has made urban China a veritable death trap - over 600,000 deaths a year are blamed on air pollution (another 400,000 die every year from polluted drinking water). And yes, the pollution does effect the U.S. How the world's top athlete's deal with this pollution in the upcoming Beijing Olympic Games will be enlightening for the world to behold. But thats a problem for another day...

Coal power plants are a major cause of this pollution (well-documented in a three-piece series by the NYT) but the growing use of cars in the world's largest country is having heavy impacts on an already deteriorated air quality.

Yet, it looks like China is working to begin chipping away at this problem, albeit with a very small hammer and chisel. September 22 is China's first "No Car Day" where in more than a 100 cities across the country will ban private vehicles from hitting the blacktop all day. Some cities will ban driving altogether while others will just "encourage" citizens to stay off the roads. To help commuters forgoing their four-wheeled habit get around, there will be an increased number of public transportation options.

I find this whole No Car Day push sadly ironic. Here is a country that 60 years ago had the goal of reaching 1 million bicycles nationwide as part of the government's Five Year Plan. In 1958 they reached that goal and bike lanes became a part of every urban development program. This was almost 30 years before the first state-sanctioned bike lanes appeared in the United States. Now, because of the growth in the economy and the development of a national transportation system that is structured around the vehicle, China is inheriting all the problems that go along with such "progress": air pollution from millions of new vehicles.

Either way you look at it, you have to admire how fast the country has mobilized over 100 cities to commit to this day. I'll readily admit the problems with Chinese communism but their efficiency in things like this is really incredible. When was the last time the U.S. has been able to organize something like this from the White House on down?

1 comment:

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