ecostory 43-2007
We know it's bad but we can't stop - car-free day

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    I studied human motivation. I wanted to understand what makes people tick for the environment. I admit failure.
    What I should have studied, instead, is how people juggle conflicting goals and facts.
    How can one see the obvious damage the automobile does and at the same time have motorisation as the main policy objective?
    When will people realise humanity has overshot the earth's carrying capacity and that therefore the only remedy lies in reduction of our human load?
    One car-free day shows the difference and the way forward.
    365 car-free days must be one of our major goals!

Chinese cities to go car-free for a day

By Mure Dickie in Beijing (copyright: Financial Times, May 7 2007, reproduced for reference purposes only)

More than 100 Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai are to take part in the country's first official urban "car-free day", barring automobiles from selected areas and ordering officials to swap their black sedans for public transport.

The decision to join other urban centres around the world in holding "no car" events on September 22 is a reflection of growing concerns about congestion, pollution and global warming that are clouding China's passionate love affair with the automobile.

Beijing leaders have made creation of a powerful motor industry a cornerstone of industrial policy, and urban planners have often favoured drivers over the cyclists who once ruled China's roads.

China last year became the world's second largest car market and the third-largest car producer after the US and Japan and the sector has been forecast to expand 15-20 per cent this year.

However, some officials now accept that unrestrained growth in car transport cannot be sustained by urban infrastructure or the environment.

In a report on the planned car-free day, the official Xinhua news agency said Beijing - where traffic jams are already a daily occurrence - was adding 1,000 new private cars a day, and that transport accounted for 20 per cent of society's total energy consumption. The government news agency said 106 cities had signed formal pledges to take part in the car-free day and an associated week-long promotion of public transport.

"City government leaders must set an example in taking part in this activity by going to work by public transport, walking or riding bicycles," Xinhua said.

The planned annual event will not itself turn the tide against the car in China. Even some supporters of car-free days elsewhere have expressed disappointment at their impact, saying they seldom lead to more substantial action to reduce the urban role of private vehicles.

Public transport networks remain inadequate in many Chinese cities, while urban redevelopment means workers increasingly live far from their place of employment.

However, the cities participating in the September car-free day have promised to "put into practice at least one new green transport policy" and to improve public transport, Xinhua said.

Even short-term activities can have observable effects. A recent study found that when Beijing ordered about 800,000 of the capital's 2.8m cars off the roads for three days last year during an international summit, local nitrogen oxide air pollution fell by 40 per cent.

Researchers from Harvard University and the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute said the effect of the limited ban on cars - intended to help the 49-nation Sino-African summit pass smoothly by clearing congested streets - was observed by a Nasa satellite.

The fast growth and relative inefficiency of private vehicles mean they are becoming a focus of concern about greenhouse gas emissions, although local carmakers have sought to burnish their green credentials by promising to invest in new technology.
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