Sat, Dec 25, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Plan to ease traffic in Beijing hits a bump in the road

NY Times News service, BEIJING

A minibus drives past vehicles in a -traffic jam on Jianwai Street ahead of the -evening rush hour in central Beijing on Thursday.

Photo: REUTERS

In Beijing’s newfound enthusiasm to address its smothering traffic jams, it appears that Huang Wei (黃衛) has succeeded too well.

Huang, Beijing’s vice mayor for traffic management, resigned on Thursday and was reassigned to remote western China, the exile destination of choice for those out of favor. The demotion followed a record splurge on new-car purchases by Beijing residents, who apparently anticipated that the city was about to tackle its traffic jams by limiting registrations of new vehicles.

The city did just that on Thursday, announcing that it would issue only 240,000 new license plates next year, one-third of this year’s number, in the final version of a traffic-improvement plan that was first issued on Dec. 13. The final plan envisions miles of underground highways, higher city-center parking fees, vastly expanded subway and bicycle networks, and a lattice of new downtown streets — as well as a cap on new vehicle registrations — in an attack on traffic that ranks among the world’s worst.

Beijing residents reacted to hints of a cap on new registrations by rushing to buy cars at a record rate. Last week, the city registered 30,000 new vehicles, the most ever, and 50 percent more than in the preceding week. Huang’s role in the preparation of the traffic plan was unclear, but the timing and site of his reassignment suggested that higher authorities were displeased with the surge in car buying.

In a July poll of commuters in 20 cities, IBM concluded that the most insufferable traffic was in Beijing and Mexico City.

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