Beijing Traffic. Photo by Proggie
Listening to NPR last night, I was caught by surprise by a story describing the unexpected popularity of the temporary traffic restrictions Beijing implemented during the Olympics. Conventional wisdom holds that citizens usually view such regulations (which in Beijing’s case prohibit motorists from driving more than every other day) as onerous. But as yesterday’s piece by Mary Kay Magistad of “The World” notes, “many Beijingers like the [resultant] improvements in air quality and traffic, and they’d like the restrictions to become permanent.”
This somewhat surprising response is probably a direct result of the fact that 80% of Beijing residents still do not own a car. This often silent majority is thus forced to suffer the negative aspects of the city’s increasing motorization (such as traffic congestion and air pollution), while missing out on the benefits of private cars.
Despite their popularity, however, these new traffic regulations are expected to be rescinded after the Olympic hype subsides. Now the question is whether or not policymakers will take this broad support into account and make the traffic restrictions permanent. Let’s hope they do, because without these and other interventions, Beijing’s environment, public health, and general quality of life will continue to take a back seat to cars and car infrastructure.
>> Listen to the podcast
>> Read more of WRI’s coverage of the Olympics
>> Listen to a series of stories on urbanization in China done by “The World” this summer