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September 23, 2009

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Home » Metro » Public Services

Car-free day revs up more than just empathy over green streets

SHANGHAI took part in World Car-Free Day yesterday by banning private vehicles on a 2-kilometer stretch of busy Nanjing Road W.

The goal was to raise awareness about greener forms of transportation such as mass transit and bicycles. Instead, the measure seemed to do little more than anger both motorists and those inclined to opt for a more environmentally friendly way to get around.

It caused major backups and didn't seem to put a dent in the early morning gridlock. And city officials, who pointed out they were simply following a national edict, ducked questions about whether the traffic ban made any sense at all.

Shanghai wasn't always so reluctant to participate in the global campaign, promoted by environmental groups in an effort to show the benefits of a world with fewer cars.

In 2007, the city marked the day with a 12-hour ban on private cars in several areas within the central business district.

Last year, the time span was cut to six hours and fewer streets were selected.

Yesterday, the effort was mostly symbolic: a two-and-a-half hour ban on Nanjing Road W. between Huashan Road and Shimen No. 2 Road. Starting at 8am, only transit buses and taxis were allowed.

The cutback, city officials said, was necessitated by a traffic network suffering serious congestion as a result of massive infrastructure improvements in advance of the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.

A spokesperson for the Shanghai Information Office said the city was doing its best to comply with the state call for car-free-day participation given that more than 6,000 public construction projects were under way.

Drivers were decidedly more vocal, however, complaining that the limited nature of the ban had little effect on traffic and that the controls, and lack of adequate warning, caused surrounding streets to become parking lots rather than free-flowing arteries.

"There really should be an end to such things," complained an angry driver, saying there were hardly any signboards posted near the area so motorists could detour.

Many drivers were already close to the no-go zone when they were told to take alternate routes, worsening the traffic jam, he said.

The ill-feeling seemed to spread to police, who were not overly keen on enforcing the ban.

One traffic cop said the media lost interest in publicizing the campaign because of its smaller scale. He said lack of notice caused many drivers to avoid taking a timely detour.

"Most drivers were surprised about the ban when told to stay away this morning," said the officer, who asked not to be identified. "Traffic was especially slow and congested near both entrances to car-ban section."

Pedestrians were unimpressed as well.

"I didn't find any reduction in cars elsewhere in the city this morning," said a middle-aged man. "More people should be voluntarily giving up driving on this day to support the campaign."


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