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Air Quality

Businessman Hopes to Bring Bikes Back to Beijing

Only 20 years ago, Beijing was one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world. Today, rapidly increasing automobile congestion is helping to turn the Chinese capital into one of the most polluted cities on Earth. Air quality is so bad, the Chinese government is initiating special driving restrictions ahead of next year's Olympic Games in order to make the air breathable for the world's elite athletes. Meanwhile, one entrepreneur is trying to bring back bicycles, capitalist-style with a bike sharing program similar to the one recently set up in Paris.

The Christian Science Monitor reports:

OCARFREE_P1.jpgDrivers here are so accustomed to choking on exhaust fumes, stuck for hours in tailbacks that they scarcely even complain. So the Beijing city council's decision to join this year's World Carfree Day for the first time would seem to be a cause for rejoicing.

Don't cheer too loudly, though. The centerpiece of the authorities' plan for Saturday is to temporarily ban private cars from two stretches of downtown street, each about 250 yards long. That's 0.003 per cent of Beijing's roads.

It is not exactly the courageous blow for a livable city that Wang Yong, an energetic bicycle enthusiast and entrepreneur, had hoped for. But Mr. Wang has his own plan to tame Beijing's streets and perhaps make some money, too.

The Beijing Bicycle Rental Co., Mr. Wang admits, is a bit of a David in the face of the capital's Goliath-like traffic monster. But he has high hopes that as Beijingers' frustration levels rise, the seductive charms and status of driving an automobile will seem less tempting, and that they will return to the bicycles they have deserted by the millions in recent years.

"We Chinese have a special feeling for bicycles, and cars have brought catastrophic damage to our society and our environment," Wang says. "Every civilized citizen has to be aware … that we have to bring bikes back into our daily lives."

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