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September 23, 2011

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Traffic crawls along as usual on 'car-free' day

CAR-FREE day yesterday had no discernible effect on improving traffic as vehicles crawled in the usual snarl in downtown Shanghai during rush hours.

There was even some backlash as some said the special day is a mere show.

Traffic authorities expected 200,000 car owners to leave their vehicles at home and take public transport, but how many actually did so remained unknown.

Traffic flowed freely, though, in part of Xuhui District that was the off-limits area to private vehicles from 9am to 4pm. Traffic police and volunteers guided passing vehicles away from the restricted area near the Huangpu River in an area that sees few cars on normal days.

"The traffic restrictions would not reduce much congestion on main roads," said one volunteer, Xu Bin, standing at an intersection just outside the controlled area. "The vehicle volume is relatively small."

Behind Xu, the roads were wide and clean with some bikes riding with ease.

But on local elevated roads, things were far from encouraging. Long queues were spotted in the morning rush on the south-north elevated road, a major thoroughfare.

City construction and traffic authorities said they encouraged about 200,000 car owners to take public transport by handing out stickers in the preceding days at business hubs and gas stations.

"I told you, it's a symbol for just one day," said Lu Fei, a car owner. "There is no question vehicle numbers in the city are increasing day by day."

Indeed, the car-free day has tended to be more symbolic than substantial since Shanghai first took part in 2007, when a 12-hour ban was put in place in several areas within the central business district.

Shanghai has more than 1.46 million private cars. City traffic administrators said 9,500 people acquired city car plates at an average price of 52,622 yuan in the latest auction held last Saturday, proving demand remains very strong.

In a survey conducted online by Shanghai Daily, about 40 percent of participants said the car-free day is "a joke and a show more than a fruitful effort." Still 34 percent thought it was a worthy effort and that it will raise awareness for greener transport.

Hundreds of bicyclists - locals and foreigners - rode in Xuhui to boost the theme this year, "the city's future lies in greener traffic," before the car-free day.


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