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Humanised streets - a Beijing initiative!

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The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development's initiation of a national car-free day on Sept. 22 is of significance to both the country's urban development and environmental protection.

The theme, "humanized street", points to the trend in city renovations, of city roads in particular, in recent years.

On that day from 7 in the morning until 7 in the evening, cities are encouraged to set aside a particular section of a street or road and make it open only to pedestrians, public buses, taxis and cyclists. If possible, some cities may keep all their streets or roads during the 12 hours closed to cars.

This activity is meant to let residents feel how nice a street can be without the flow of speeding cars. Even those who drive cars will get to know how long queues of motor vehicles make urban streets an unwelcome space for urban dwellers.

Thirty years back when the country was nicknamed the "kingdom of bicycles", almost all streets or roads had lanes for cyclists. They were flanked by trees on both sides, which would protect cyclists from the scorching sun in the summer and keep them safe from the possibility of being knocked down by motor vehicles. Pavements too were wider and shaded by trees.

The rapid increase of the number of cars, both private and public, has prompted repeated road renovations in many cities, big cities like Beijing in particular. Roads and streets are much wider after renovations. Many narrower, separate lanes for cyclists are divided by just a painted line rather than by fences. Many pavements now are narrower so as to make room for motor vehicles.

Most renovated roads or streets are much more friendly to cars than to cyclists or pedestrians.

The theme of "humanized street" challenges the existing concept for road renovations. And it also points to the irony that increasingly wider roads have proved to be no solution to traffic jams.

The restriction of cars on alternate days according to the last figures of their license plates has enabled Beijing residents to enjoy the cleanest air and clearest sky in years during the Olympic Games. This has resulted in a heated debate on whether the restriction should be kept as a permanent rule.

Obviously Beijing residents have become much more aware of how the quality of their life has been negatively affected by the increasing number of cars. But many are still reluctant to give up the convenience that driving brings them.

Yet, if the national car-free day is regularly observed, it can drive home how cities with less cars on the road can benefit all the residents. That, in turn, can push authorities and city planners to provide more convenient and comfortable public transport. And such moves can attract more residents to use public transport means.

(Source: China Daily)

China and humanities!? Well, they seem to learn from their mistakes, and move fast. On the other hand, we only seem to give lip service to these kinds of issues, like was heard enough and more at the TRANSINNOVA summit, a senior ex-bureaucrat thereafter going on to plead helplessness in the face of the automobile lobby clout.

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