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Blogging Beijing

The 2008 Summer Olympics will punctuate three decades of development and test China's global legitimacy. They've already transformed the way millions of people think and live. Seattleite and Fulbright researcher Daniel Beekman brings you Beijing.

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July 21, 2008 5:31 PM

Beijing's Olympian experiment

Posted by Daniel Beekman

Beijing's Olympian experiment went live Sunday. The city ordered private vehicles with odd-numbered license plates not to budge.

One million carbon dioxide belchers - those bearing even-numbered license plates - sat out Monday's commute.

Motorists will observe alternating restrictions through September. Only clear skies and streets on August 8th, for the 2008 Games Opening Ceremonies, will prove organizers' hypotheses correct.

Beijing contains 3.3 million private cars. The city's environmental protection administration has claimed restrictions will reduce emissions by 63 percent.

(Note: For more on Beijing's traffic woes, see 'Higher, Faster, Stronger...Commuter?' on Blogging Beijing.)

It's back to the bicycle for some car-deprived Beijingers - no fun in this heat.

Gazing north on Beijing's oft-jammed Zhongguancun Dajie Sunday morning.

Subway Line 5 riders held tight and pressed together Monday afternoon.

"Traffic today has been much better," said a Beijing taxi-driver, between grateful puffs on a cigarette. "See those clouds up there? See that blue? We're cleaning up the city for the Olympics...for you."

The odd/even numbered restrictions - in Chinese, danshuanghao - are bound to unclog Beijing's major arteries. Violators will pay a US$14 fine.

"There are fewer cars on the road today," a middle-aged man on his way to work remarked. "I'm a big supporter of this plan."

Skeptics have questioned the city's ability to serve a million more bus and subway riders each day. A new, $2.3 million subway line, which loops north and east of central Beijing, opened just in time, on July 18.

"We rode the bus to class this morning," whined one young woman, arm-in-arm with a friend. "There wasn't much traffic, but the bus was so crowded we were nearly crushed."

Beijing has also added 2,000 buses and extended hours of operation for mass transit.

"There's plenty of space on the subway right now," a tour guide who'll accompany Snickers' corporate delegation to the Games (the candy bar company is an Olympic sponsor) admitted. "Although, I'm running late. We'll see how things go tonight during rush hour."

"If the subway is packed, so what?" remarked an older woman in passing. "It's always been packed."

Subway ridership barely increased Sunday, but jumped for Monday's commute.

Three new subway lines and 2,000 additional buses will operate during the 2008 Games.

Subway Line 10 now connects Beijing's technology hub and booming business district.

All things considered, Beijingers appear to be taking the restrictions in stride.

"Usually I take the bus," said a sweaty, balding man. "Today I decided to walk."

Many here are eager to sacrifice. They're praying for a successful Olympic Games.

"This should be good for the athletes," explained a university student and Olympic volunteer. "Anyway, the subway is really convenient. Soon I'll be riding the new Olympic line."

Beijing has reserved a 264-km network of Olympic traffic lanes for use during the Games.

"I'm a teacher on vacation," a friendly woman shared. "So I've got nowhere to go. Yeah, I have a car. But if I need to, I can take taxis here and there."

Aside from this summer's Olympic athletes and V.I.P.s, for whom the experiment was designed, taxi-drivers here may benefit most. Liberated boulevards, fresh local riders and an Olympic customer base...August is shaping up nicely.

"The restrictions don't apply to taxis," a cheerful taxi-driver said Sunday. "Whoo-hoo! I don't know what tomorrow will be like. I'm not sure how long this is going to last. I've heard September 20th. So, I'm enjoying today."

Emergency and diplomatic vehicles are also exempt. According to state-sponsored media, 70 percent of government cars and trucks will comply.

Road and vehicle taxes will be waived until September.

"The restrictions are necessary," a young man shopping with his girlfriend said. "We can't have traffic as a pressure during the Games.

"In fact, I think the restrictions should stay in place after the Olympics. In terms of transportation and air quality, they really benefit Beijing's common people - the laobaixing."

Traffic newslinks:

'Olympic city cuts traffic to clean up the air'

'Beijing traffic curbs stifle trade, may ripple to U.S.'

'Beijing subway seizes up as traffic taken off road'

'Security checks rile drivers in Beijing'

Interactive map of Beijing/China - follow up on posts and get oriented:



'Two dead, 14 injured in Kunming bus explosions'

'Introducing the Beijing Air Quality Widget'

'No earthquake in Beijing during Olympics, predict seismic experts'

'Nowitzki books Germany's ticket to Beijing'

'Games hurdles for Beijing businesses'

'Diaoyutai State Guesthouse Faces Court Fines'

'No blacks or Mongolians for bars, or no sources for SCMP?'

'Olympic pinhead in Guangzhou'

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